Just when it looked like travel nightmares were so 2022, the Federal Aviation Administration shut down air traffic for several hours this week — the first time since Sept. 11, 2001.
Passengers are still feeling ripple effects as thousands of flights were canceled or delayed, a purgatory which is starting to feel like a familiar place for those of us who travel a lot.
I speak from personal experience: I traveled during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and it felt like everything that could go wrong did: delayed flight, a family of five scattered across the plane and not seated together, a wheelchair attendant no-show, two seats downgraded from first class, no room for our carry-on handbags so we had to check them in, exorbitant waits for a rental car only to be told the SUV we booked was not available.
But this is the reality of travel (and childbirth, too): You forget the pain of the journey once it’s over.
Because this problem seems to be with us for some time, I turned to the best travel expert I know, veteran aviation journalist Benét Wilson, for her advice on how to make the logistics of getting from here to there a bit easier. Below is what she advises:
I was a Girl Scout when I was a kid, so when it comes to travel, I use their motto: Be prepared. How do I do this?
I download my airlines’ app. The app can tell you about flight delays and cancellations, and can even proactively rebook you.
Have an independent travel app like Kayak. In case the worst happens, you can find alternative flights. Please note that Southwest and other low-cost airlines (Spirit, Frontier, Allegiant and Sun Country) are not on these apps.
Check your wallet for credit cards. Depending on which one you have, you can call its concierge for help. And your cards can cover things such as trip interruption/cancellation, trip delays and lost luggage, to name a few.
Sign up for TSAPrecheck and Clear, a special line where you use an eye scan or fingerprint to get through the security checkpoint quicker. When there are crowds or you’re running late, it can be a godsend. (Check out our previous Escape Home newsletter for a travel hack to get Global Entry)
Buy a lounge pass if you can. It gets you a serene space to relax, grab a bite or get some work done in a relatively quiet space. If it’s an airline lounge, you can also get personal help from dedicated agents.
If your flight is overbooked, see what your options are. Airlines will often ask passengers with flexible travel schedules to volunteer to fly at another time. When that happens, they may offer travel vouchers. You can also negotiate for extra perks, such as a seat upgrade to a business or premium economy seat, a pass to the airline’s lounge, food vouchers and a hotel if needed.
If you are involuntarily bumped from your flight, know that you have rights. You are entitled to get your money back (do NOT accept a voucher). The airline must also accommodate you on the next available flight.
I prepare for every flight like I’ll be delayed. This means my travel backpack has the following: battery chargers for phones, tablets and laptops; plug with a surge protector; non-perishable snacks (I love Kind bars) and tea bags; a refillable water bottle (make sure it’s empty before you go through security); basic medicines such as Tylenol/Motrin/aspirin/Alleve, allergy medicine and cough drops/medicine and a small first aid kit.
Download an app like FlightAware. You can track flights and sometimes see if it may be delayed or canceled. Sometimes you get information before the gate agents.
Depending on where I am, I might fly to another city (or not) and rent a car to drive home.