Many air travelers this summer have already run into delays and cancellations, and there’s no sign of disruptions letting up anytime soon.
Delta Air Lines expects customer volumes that it has “not seen since before the pandemic” over July 4, and the airline has issued a waiver for the holiday period allowing travelers to change their tickets for free.
The moves come as traveler volumes rise. The number of passengers screened at US airports hit a fresh pandemic-era high on Sunday, June 26.
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The Transportation Security Administration says 2,462,097 people passed through its checkpoints that day, the most since February 2020, before travel demand cratered during the pandemic.
“It’s a wise decision that the airlines cut back,” says Kathleen Bangs, a former airline pilot and spokesperson for flight tracking site FlightAware.
She cited many factors causing an increased number of delays and cancellations — among them shortages of pilots and air traffic controllers and overall airline staffing shortages.
And it’s happening around the world. Ryanair staff at airports across Europe just had a weekend of strikes with more coming, and British Airways workers have voted to strike over pay concerns. If British Airways goes ahead, the move could cause more big problems for travelers this summer.
For the air traveler in the summer of 2022, this all means more strategic planning. Here are some tips to up your chances of getting where you want to go this summer.
Go early, with a buffer
• Fly early. Taking a flight that departs early in the day helps to avoid the cascading effect of delays and cancellations, says Bangs. Bad weather is also more likely to affect later flights.
• And leave plenty of time at the airport. Bangs had a 7 a.m. departure last week out of Houston Intercontinental that had her leaving her hotel at 4:30 a.m.
“And I was a bit surprised that even at that early hour, the two hours I had between arrival at the airport and departure were ALMOST not enough,” Bangs said in an email.
The typical recommended two-hour buffer for domestic flights might not be enough right now. “Three hours might be more in order at large airports.”
• Opt for nonstop, frequent service. Choosing a nonstop flight offered several times a day on major carriers ups your odds of getting rebooked on the same itinerary in a timely manner, said Willis Orlando, senior product operations specialist at airfare deals site Scott’s Cheap Flights.
• If you have connections, leave a buffer. Book with two hours minimum between connecting flights, Bangs advises. Tight connections could leave you stranded.
• Leave cushion time for can’t-miss events. Don’t travel on the day of an important event such as a wedding. Plan to arrive at least one day early.
Pack strategically and make a back-up plan
• Use a carry-on for essentials. Pack anything you’ll need within one or two days in your carry-on. Don’t check prescription medications or other essentials.
• Or consider traveling only with carry-on luggage. A rolling suitcase plus a “personal item,” which Bangs notes can be much larger than a typical purse, can often suffice even on longer trips.
“Ladies, don’t use a purse as your second carry-on. Get a big second carry-on that FITS your purse inside,” Bangs advises.
• To be really safe, book a backup flight. Bangs often books a refundable or reusable second ticket.
“The odds of two different carriers, a couple hours apart, both getting canceled are still fairly slim,” Bangs noted, unless there’s a widespread weather event.
• Or consider other back-up transportation. “Having a back-up rental car is a good idea for shorter flights,” Bangs said. “Most rental agencies won’t charge if you cancel.”
• Think about driving. “Consider driving one leg of your trip and flying back home, if you’re traveling for a big event. In some cases, this is cheaper than the round trip cost,” said Lousson Smith, product operations specialist at Scott’s Cheap Flights.
“If the destination is within 7 hours, it might be worth it to drive.”
Get your travel tools in order
• Check your departure airport’s website and Twitter feed. They often share useful information about construction projects impacting operations and long security lines.
• Check your airline’s website for travel waivers. Sometimes you can easily change your flight when delays and cancellations are likely, Bangs said. Case in point: Delta’s waivers for Memorial Day and July 4 travelers.
• Check your credit card’s travel coverage. Premium card holders often have insurance that could cover expenses such as meals and accommodation in the event of a delay or cancellation.
• Make sure you have airline apps. If your flight is canceled, reschedule your travel on the airline’s app, Bangs advises. You’re likely to be able to rebook faster and you’ll have access to seats that would probably be filling up as you waited on the phone.
If you have to rebook, do your research and be considerate
•Do your research and work with airline agents. If you have a carrier preference or a route you prefer, speak up.
“Work with them to see if they can put you on a different carrier, or route you through a different city than what they’re offering,” Bangs advises.
She recently got rerouted through Phoenix rather than Salt Lake City at her request because she preferred to be on a mainline airline rather than a regional carrier and she felt she’d have more options from Phoenix if she got stuck there.
• Ask for a hotel voucher or a frequent flier miles credit. If you can’t get on a flight the same day, it’s worth asking for meal and/or hotel vouchers. In many cases, such as weather events, airlines aren’t required to provide them, but it’s worth asking.
Bangs negotiated a miles credit recently and she has already used it to book a flight this fall.
• Stay considerate. Don’t take your frustration out on customer service employees. They aren’t making the operations decisions.
US airlines that get the most and least consumer complaints
Flight delays, cancellations and more airline woes
#17. Skywest Airlines
#16. Horizon Airlines
#15. Endeavor Air
#14. Mesa Airlines
#13. Southwest Airlines
#12. Delta Air Lines
#11. PSA Airlines
#10. Alaska Airlines
#9. Allegiant Air
#8. Frontier Airlines
#7. Republic Airways
#6. Envoy Air
#5. Hawaiian Airlines
#4. American Airlines
#3. United Airlines
#2. Spirit Airlines
#1. JetBlue Airways
US airlines that get the most and least consumer complaints
#9. Republic Airways
#8. Envoy Air
#7. Hawaiian Airlines
#6. American Airlines
#5. United Airlines
#4. Spirit Airlines
#3. JetBlue Airways
#2. Allegiant Air
#1. Frontier Airlines
CNN’s Samantha Tapfumaneyi, Livvy Doherty, Gregory Wallace, Ross Levitt and Pete Muntean contributed to this report. Top image: People move through the terminal at John F. Kennedy Airport at the start of the Memorial Day weekend on May 27, 2022, in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
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