Summer Travel: Prepare Ahead for Airport and Airline Meltdowns

In June of 2022, my mom and I returned home to the United States from a week-long trip to visit family and friends in the United Kingdom.

Our trip coincided with a major meltdown at several airlines and airports across the United Kingdom.

EasyJet canceled my flight from London to Edinburgh–along with eight other flights–at the very last minute at the gate, causing a logistical nightmare for the airline’s employees and its passengers, who spent several hours at baggage carousels trying to find their bags among, literally, thousands of suitcases.

The moment before EasyJet announced to hundreds of passengers at London Gatwick
that it was cancelling eight flights.

On our way home, we flew through Toronto. Again, due to airline operational reasons (in this case, a lack of crew to operate our flight to Newark), United Airlines canceled our flight.

It was the last flight of the night and we and our fellow passengers were forced to fend for ourselves to find a hotel, as United said that all of the hotels they normally contracted with fully booked for the evening.

In addition, because we were traveling from Canada to the United States, our flight was departing from an international pre-clearance terminal, where you clear U.S. Customs and Immigration before you take off.

This meant we had to spend another 90 minutes clearing Canadian immigration just to “re-enter” Canada. Even though our flight never actually left Canada.

Prepare for Travel Mayhem in the United States This Summer

Travel within and from the United States is on track to be one of the busiest years in terms of passenger volume and many airlines have still not increased their staffing levels, which were cut drastically during the height of the Covid pandemic.

Just last week, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called a meeting with the heads of all U.S.-based airlines to encourage them to take measures to make travel less painless for the traveling public.

Airlines are doing a very good job of charging higher fares this summer and seem to be making up for lost revenue during the height of Covid. So I’m not inclined to believe that their motivations are customer-focused at the moment.

Sadly, consumer protections in the United States lag well behind those in Europe and Canada.

Did you know that if your flight from or within Canada is delayed or canceled and you arrive at your destination more than 9 hours late, you are entitled to CAD$1,000 from your airline?

No such protection exists in the United States. In America, all your airline has to do is offer to get you to your destination at some point in time. Or offer you a refund.

So, in preparing for summer travel this year, it’s important to manage your own expectations and have some back-up plans whenever possible.

6 Tips to Make Summer Travel Less Stressful

  • If at all possible, do not check a bag.

I repeat: Do not check a bag. Even if you have to pay extra for your flight in order to bring aboard a full-sized carry-on, do it. In London, I spent three hours waiting for my suitcase to be offloaded from my canceled flight. This was a rare occasion I checked a suitcase and I regretted it for every one of those 180 minutes.

  • Eliminate connecting flights.

Even if it costs a bit more to fly nonstop instead of connecting through another city, consider how much easier it will be if things go wrong.

Sometimes, connections are inevitable. But, wherever possible, try to limit it to one connection. This is especially important if you are traveling internationally.

Having spent time in both the United Kingdom and Canada this summer, I can tell you that staff shortages extend to every facet of the travel experience–including baggage handling and even security and immigration.

Everything takes longer than it used to and you are more likely to miss a connection these days than prior to the Covid pandemic.

  • Avoid “Basic Economy” fares

This is perhaps the easiest way to save yourself a lot of travel headaches this summer and beyond. Nowadays, most airlines allow you to change or cancel flights in exchange for a voucher for future travel. But these changes are generally not allowed on basic economy tickets. Having this type of flexibility gives you a lot more options when your travel plans start to go sideways.

  • Know your rights to compensation from the airlines

In the United States, your rights are pretty limited when it comes to travel disruptions. That holds true even if your delay or cancellation is the fault of your airline (think: mechanical problem or crew-scheduling issue.)

However, if you are traveling to/from or even within another country, you may be entitled to much better consumer protection.

For example, if you are flying to/from or within Canada, if a major airline cancels your flight for an issue within their control, you are entitled to reimbursement for meals and hotel rooms (if an overnight stay is required) and up to CAD $1,000 for the inconvenience you were caused.

The European Union has similar types of consumer protections, as does the United Kingdom.

FareDropped automatically makes current information on these consumer protections available to its premium members whenever they have an upcoming itinerary to a country or region where such policies exist. Knowledge is power.

  • Get familiar with your credit card’s “Trip Delay,” “Trip Cancellation” and “Reimbursement” policies

Many credit cards (usually those that carry some sort of annual fee) have built-in protections for significant travel delays and cancellations. Check your credit card’s benefits guide and look for a section called “Trip Delay Reimbursement,” or something similar.

In order to access these benefits–which often include reimbursement for a hotel if your flight is canceled and you require an overnight stay before reaching your destination–you’ll need to pay for your ticket using that particular card.

Get familiar with those benefits–you are already paying for them, so understand them so you can access them when needed. Some of these benefits even apply if your flight cancellation is weather related!

FareDropped membership comes with benefits designed to make your travel easier. Most importantly, after you’ve booked, we’ll track the price of your exact flights. If the airline reduces the price of your flight, FareDropped automatically gets you a voucher from your airline for the difference in fare. And most fares–except Basic Economy fares–are eligible for vouchers or e-credits.

Sign up for a free trial of FareDropped here.

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