Travel is beginning to reach levels we haven’t seen since before COVID-19, and with that comes uncertainty. These issues had been predicted, but the scale of the travel disruptions has been staggering. Thousands of flights were canceled July 4th weekend alone, stranding millions of passengers. These issues are expected to continue throughout the summer and potentially into early September.
While the travel surge caught some airlines and airports by surprise, you have the opportunity to prepare.
The timing of your flight can play a large part in avoiding or dealing with a flight disruption. One of the most prominent causes of disruptions is that airlines are understaffed for the ambitious flight schedules they’ve planned. To get around this, you should look to fly on the first flight your airline has that day. The airline staff have a strictly required 10-hour rest period in their 24-hour schedule. By taking the first flight that airline has available that day, the crew should be rested and you’re less likely to have a cancellation.
The day you fly also matters, both for price and your chances of cancellation. Another reason some are experiencing travel disruptions this summer is from flights being overbooked. This issue may arise from airlines shuffling passengers of canceled flights or they simply sold more tickets than there was space. In some cases, you may be forced to give up your seat, though you have rights to compensation.
You can avoid the risk of overbooked flights by flying on non-peak days. These tend to be Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Weekends often are the busiest days for flying, along with Mondays since they’re popular business travel days. Traveling on non-peak days has the added bonus of preventing disruptions due to overworked ground staff since the airport should be less busy.
Finally, give yourself as much travel flexibility in your vacation schedule. If there’s something you absolutely need to be there for or don’t want to miss, like a wedding or sporting event, plan to be at your destination the day before. This gives you time to rebook a flight or find another means of travel if your initial flight is canceled. The same goes for coming home. Don’t plan anything important for the day after you return. Flexibility gives you the ability to rework your plans on the fly without ruining the rest of your vacation!
Whether you book on peak days or not, some airports are going to be busy, especially major hubs that act as connections to other airports. Each airline has their own hubs, but the New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles airports are all common hubs. Others are popular for connections, like Atlanta, Dallas, and Denver to name a few, making them very busy. This has caused some of these airports to experience more disruptions and cancellations. Newark, LaGuardia, and Orlando have all specifically been named as particularly bad for cancellations in 2022.
When you’re booking your flights, don’t just pick the closest or cheapest airport. Instead, research the environment first. Most airports will list the current status of their incoming and departing flights on their websites, giving you a sense of the disruptions you may experience. Airline tracking websites like FlightAware can even allow you to see all cancellations and delays worldwide.
In the current climate, there are two ways you should be booking direct flights. First, it makes sense to book your flights nonstop as often as possible. Yes, it may be a little more expensive depending on the airline, but if your focus is on fewer disruptions, this is your best bet. With so many flights and airports experiencing delays right now, any issue in that chain can ripple. The fewer stops from Point A to Point B is a wise choice, especially right now.
You should also look to book your flights directly with the airline. Booking through travel or flight aggregator sites may promise lower flight costs or a simplified booking process. They’re often called online travel agencies and act as the middleman between you and the airline (or hotel, etc). What this means is that should you have a canceled flight, you’ll need to work with the third party to get a refund from the airline instead. This indirect approach can add layers of complication and headaches if you do need to make a change or you want a refund. While this may not be a massive concern in normal travel circumstances, with so many getting canceled or delayed right now, it has to be considered.
● ● ●
Traveling right now can be incredibly stressful. You still have the nerves of flying for the first time since a pandemic stopped the world — a pandemic that is very much still a reality. You also have the normal stressors of traveling. Adding one more thing can seem torturous, so why not give yourself the best chance of avoiding that?
Even with the best planning, you may still encounter a delay or even a cancellation. However, with the right preparation, you can protect your much-deserved, sorely needed vacation as best as you can.