Eight Tips for Airline Passengers This Summer Travel Season

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Coinciding with schools closing for the summer and temperatures rising, the ”Summer Travel Season” has officially kicked. During this time, some families will load up their SUVs for childhood-defining road trips. However, many more try to limit their luggage to just under 50 lbs. and board a plane destined for fun in the sun.

This year’s Summer Travel Season is expected to be one of the busiest in history. In fact, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is preparing for “…the highest passenger volumes [it] has seen at airport security checkpoints nationwide…”

But the hustle and bustle of a busy Summer Travel Season isn’t always beneficial for passengers. Increased demand for air travel can make it difficult to get rebooked on flights should passengers miss theirs. The Summer Travel Season also often witnesses unpredictable weather and intense storms that seemingly arise out of nowhere, canceling and delaying flights and snaring vacation plans.

However, with proper planning and preparation, passengers can weather the Summer Travel Season and enjoy their vacations without turbulence. Here are eight tips, courtesy of FlightAware’s Kathleen Bangs, that passengers should keep in mind when departing for the airport this Summer Travel Season:

Be the early bird.

Thunderstorms and widespread fronts can wreak havoc with airline schedules during the Summer Travel Season, so getting the earliest morning departure means significantly fewer chances of a canceled flight or long delay.

Delays can domino enough that by the evening hours, there may not be a spare aircraft available or a flight crew that hasn’t timed out. FlightAware data supports that the earlier you fly, the greater the chance for an on-time arrival.

Fly nonstop, if possible.

If your itinerary does include a connecting flight, check the time between your two flights and make sure it’s reasonable. If you miss a connecting flight, you may not find an available seat that day.

Carriers can book connecting flights with as little as 25 minutes between connections. That may not be realistic when there’s a long distance between gates or terminals or if you’re traveling with young children or people who may need assistance.

Always have a backup plan.

If the airline can’t get you home – or they can, but not for an extra day or two – make sure you have a contingency plan in mind. Of course, the further away from home you’re traveling – especially if international – the more planning for ‘what ifs’ the better. Anything from having enough balance on a credit card to purchasing another ticket if necessary (while you negotiate compensation) to trading in frequent flier miles.

Mentally prepare a plan of action, especially in case of the event you get stuck at your destination, or an interim airport during a missed connection. Always have a carry-on that includes any necessary medications, a change of clothes, and a phone charger.
Consider what you’d do if your wallet and/or phone were lost or stolen and how you would access a copy of any important documents and phone numbers.

Use a Map.

Your smartphone has maps, but travelers often overlook using them. If, for example, your flight out of Newark (EWR) is canceled and the airline can’t find you an open seat until tomorrow, then check if they could get you on a flight out of nearby JFK or LaGuardia (LGA). Even Philadelphia (PHL) is only about 99 miles away if you really need to get a flight to your destination – such as a family wedding or business emergency.

Or, let’s say you’re flying to Tampa, but no flights or seats are available. Pull out a map. Does the carrier have a flight to nearby St. Petersburg (PIE) or Sarasota (SRQ)? Or even Orlando (MCO), about a 90-minute rental car drive. Look at nearby alternative airports. While driving an hour or more may be inconvenient, it’s better than not getting there at all.

Don’t confuse the two types of carry-on bags.

When flying with two carry-on bags, a ‘roller bag’ that goes in the overhead bins and a smaller ‘personal’ or ‘under the seat’ bag, make sure your most critical items—passport, medications, phone, jewelry, and anything expensive or hard to replace—go in your under-the-seat bag.

Why? As the overhead bins fill, it’s common now for carriers to check roller bags that can’t fit overhead into the baggage compartment. That’s an opportunity for you to get separated from your bag, with the possibility of it – and those important items you need – getting delayed.

Also, remember that Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations say domestic carry-on items can’t exceed dimensions of 22 by 14 by 9 inches. However, depending on the airline, you might find an inch or two of difference. Each carrier’s exact dimension limits can be found on their website or app. 

Know before you go.

Use the FAA’s National Airspace Status website to find up-to-the-minute information on Air Traffic Control (ATC) delays and airport ground stops.

Often overlooked by non-industry travelers, this useful site explains the causes of delays (high winds, heavy precipitation, computer system outages) and how long they might last.

Also, to get a big-picture weather overview of potential events and areasof precipitation affecting travel, check out the National Weather Service’s Prediction Center website a day or two before flying.The exceptionally helpful National Forecast Chart is easy to understand and depicts major fronts and forecast precipitation for up to three days in advance. 

There’s an app for that!

Some carriershave discontinued customer service via phone, and other airlines have introduced text message customer service. This is designed to empower travelers to book tickets and make changes all on their own via each air carrier’s app. Download your carrier’s app to get the fastest access to any changes you might need and the most real-time communications from the airline.

If faced with a long delay or cancellation while at the airport, it can still be worth standing in line to talk with an airline employee face-to-face, but make sure you’re still working the app to grab that last open seat before you get to the counter. One scenario when you might need customer service is to get rebooked on another carrier via that airline’s interline agreement.

If your airline can’t book a seat on their aircraft, they can sometimes – for no additional charge – put you onboard another carrier via an interline agreement.

Know what you’re entitled to.

Delays and cancelations happen – especially during the Summer Travel Season.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) Airline Customer Service Dashboard addresses what passengers can expect and what they are entitled to during a lengthy delay or cancellation and provides handy charts with details and information from all ten top US carriers.

The site also hosts a Family Seating Dashboard to address the issue of seating traveling kids next to at least one parent or guardian.

To read FlightAware’s full 2024 travel outlook and travel tips for this Summer Travel Season, click HERE.

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