Summer time travel can be an amazing experience or an exercise in frustration. I am going to spell out the factors in what contributes to these issues and how you can make the most of your travel experience!
- Make sure you give yourself enough time. Please make sure that your connecting time between your flights is 2 or more hours. You may be able to squeak by with 1 1/2 hrs. Be at the airport at least 3 hrs before departure for domestic and 4 for international. It is so much more enjoyable to know that if your first flight is delayed 30-60 minutes, you will not miss your connecting flight! Summer weather wreaks havoc on the entire system. Each jet flies multiple flights each day so if there is bad weather anywhere on its scheduled routing, the cascade of delays begin. The airlines cannot forecast weather months in advance so they do the best they can for efficiency. We pilots keep you safe and out of the aggressive summer weather which means sometimes we may need to hold or divert. I would much rather enjoy a coffee with my extra airport time than to sprint through it and miss my flight, would’t you?
- Pay extra to go direct. If the schedule of your jet gets messed up due to weather, maintenance, airport construction, or air traffic control congestion, you will not miss your connections. You will either be near you home, or near your destination. It is much better to drive back home to sleep or back to your vacation spot for an overnight rest than to be stuck at an airport all night! Local hotels may be full due to flight cancellations from weather and vacationers pre-planned stays. You will be rebooked for the next day’s flight and now you will be more rested and ready to go!
- Check in online. I am amazed the airlines let us do this but you can check in online within 24 hours of your flight. This way, if you arrive at the airport without checked luggage, you can proceed directly to the security line for your gate without having to wait at the ticket counter to check in. If you do have luggage to check, you can check it with the curbside attendants. Make sure they give you your ticket stub for your luggage.
- Weigh your luggage before you leave home. If it weighs more than the airline website says (usually 50lbs) or is a larger dimension, it will cost you more money. Take three inter changeable outfits with a few versatile pair of shoes and you are set! You can plan to have laundry done at your hotel or place you are visiting. (I have washed laundry in hotel sinks many times!) If you buy many souvenirs or items on your trip and are concerned about return weight fees, use a mini travel scale which you can order online or send it home by mail!
- Booking through a third party vendor. Please be aware that your ticket could be less protected this way than if you book directly with the airline. It may not be possible to cancel ahead of time, move your times or days, fix connection issues, etc. If there is a flight cancellation or change, they may not rebook you on another flight. Sometimes, one flight may be on one airline, while the connecting is on another. If the airlines are not code sharing (mutual partnership agreement) and you miss the second flight due to misconnection, the second airline will not honor your ticket.
- Travel Insurance. This is a good way to put your mind at ease. Having this type of insurance will protect your entire trip. If there is a hurricane at your vacation spot, airports are shutdown, the hotel employees have evacuated, your luggage has flown somewhere else, and you now have a “staycation” at home, your trip money will be reimbursed to you!
- Airport layouts. Please notice on your tickets what airline it says your flights are booked with. When it comes to your connecting flight, you may have to go outside of security possibly to another terminal or area of the airport. This means you you may have to stand in line for security at the other airport terminal in order to board your next flight. The day of your flight, you can look at the airline websites to find out which gate they are “planning” to have your flights. Look on google airport layouts and note the terminals and distances. Remember, it takes 15-20 minutes just to deplane and you must be at the next departing gate at least 30 minutes prior to departure.
- Don’t forget your passport! If you are going anywhere internationally, you must have a current and valid passport. It is easy for us to forget that we need this for places in Canada and Mexico since they are neighbors. I would allow six weeks to get a new passport so if you want peace of mind or need it faster, use expediting services that can do it for you in as little as 24 hours! In the Los Angeles area, check out “PassportRelief.com”. Please allow plenty of time to get through customs! This is not a big deal if you are arriving at your destination, but it can when it comes to connecting flights!
- Fly the day before a big event. Do not ever fly the same day of a wedding, funeral, cruise ship departure, make it or break it meeting, etc. You do not want to be the person in full melt down mode or blowing a gasket. If your flight is delayed a few hours, your are fine because you know you have time to sleep at the hotel and be refreshed for the big event the next afternoon. If your flight cannot get in that night, you will arrive early the next morning for the event.
- Expect issues. It is summer and even we flight crews know that our trips will probably get messed up with thunderstorms somewhere. It is frustrating for us, the airlines, the flight support, and the air traffic controllers also when weather affects the flow. We want to get you there and be there ourselves just as much as you want us to! But, safety always comes first. If you plan to wait at the airport for hours, (sometimes even a half to a full day, or overnight), than you will be relaxed about it. Bring books to read or download (ex: “Remove Before Flight” so you are a power house traveler!), music on your device, movies or shows that you like, and have with you healthy snacks and water. If you fly more often, consider paying the yearly fee for the elite airline lounges. They are quiet, comfy, and relaxing – food and drinks included!
- Buy offs and rebooking. Summer and holiday travel is the time to take advantage of these! If you are flexible with your schedule and days, you can make some extra money! Yes, most airlines slightly overbook – they want their jets full and they anticipate misconnections and people late to the airport. When you arrive an hour ahead of time at your departing gate, ask the ticket agent if they think the flight may be overbooked. If yes, and you are willing to take a later flight, tell them you want to be on the list for a buy off. They may tell you to stay close to the gate counter there. When they start offering money vouchers ($400, $500, etc.), you will be the first in line ready to get receive. This money credit can be used for an entire extra ticket for a trip another time! Just make sure you are ok with the later flight or next day flight times that they will rebook you on since many flights are already full.
- Turbulence. Summer can kick up some pretty bumpy air. We always try to avoid these areas and plan for the smoothest rides we can! Sometimes, it is inevitable. The jets are made to withstand severe turbulence but if you want to have a smoother ride, take early morning flights. Not only are they much less bumpy, but you it is very unlikely you will have any delays. The jet you are flying on most likely came in the night. Even if it was delayed several hours, it is there in the morning ready for its crew and passengers!
I hope this helps make your air travel easier for you!