4th of July ‘Travel Drama’: Airlines Warn Passengers to Prepare for Trouble

Barrett Lane was on his way from Washington, DC, to the wedding of one of his best college friends in Thousand Oaks, Calif., when his flight was delayed before the July 4 weekend.

The 34-year-old transportation project manager and her husband had been flying to Newark, New Jersey, where they needed to change planes, when their United Airlines flight to Los Angeles was delayed four hours due to a maintenance problem.

Several more delays later, the couple boarded the plane on Wednesday evening with other passengers and sat in the doorway for three hours.

The airline eventually let them disembark and the flight was pushed back until morning. Hotels were full, so the couple slept on cots on the airport floor.

“I think I slept maybe about an hour total,” Lane told USA TODAY. By the time the flight finally took off the next morning, it had been delayed for over 14 hours.

While Lane’s experience was at the extreme, flight delays and cancellations have become all too common this summer as air travel struggles to get back to normal after the pandemic-era slump.

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United gave the couple a total of $60 in food stamps and $300 in flight credit each, Lane said. A customer service representative also told Lane that the airline would refund the miles he had used for the flight (her husband had booked separately and had not yet called customer service). And although he planned to skip the wedding rehearsal to rest, he will try to enjoy the trip and the occasion.

“You can talk a little bit about your travel drama…but the focus is on the bride and groom and the wedding party,” he said. “So I’m going to do my best not to be the main character this weekend.”

Demand for flights is on the rise and airlines are under strain to get people where they want to go. For travelers, it’s more important than ever to be patient and ready for change, especially as we approach a holiday weekend that’s sure to draw even more people to airports.

What is happening in airports today?

By 2 p.m. ET Friday, more than 300 US flights had been canceled and nearly 2,900 others delayed, according to FlightAware, which tracks flight status in real time.

Delta Air Lines has the most cancellations of any carrier in the United States, with about 80 flights canceled so far, which is about 2% of the airline’s schedule for today. This number does not include flights operated by regional Delta subsidiaries.

The Federal Aviation Administration warns that today could become more difficult as summer storms threaten to cause problems across large swaths of the country.

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Travelers line up at O’Hare International Airport on June 30, 2022 in Chicago.

What causes the problems?

In the United States, the biggest problem this summer has been the shortage of pilots.

Airlines don’t have enough staff to fly all the flights they have scheduled in many cases, and with stretched rosters it takes longer for carriers to recover if something goes wrong.

Shortage of pilots: Airlines are struggling to be reliable this summer

“We need more pilots to enter the profession as an industry, as a country, it is important. And until we fix some things to allow that to happen, it’s going to get more and more acute,” Andrew Levy, CEO of ultra-low-cost carrier Avelo Airlines, told USA TODAY. “The result will be less air service in this country and people will pay higher fares.”

On top of that, according to the airlines, the Federal Aviation Administration is having trouble recruiting staff at some of its air traffic control centers, which may cause flight departures to be postponed until controllers have the bandwidth needed to handle more incoming aircraft.

“The answer to what the next few months are going to look like came three months ago in terms of staffing and schedules,” said Courtney Miller, founder of Visual Approach Analytics.

To that end, airlines such as American, Delta, JetBlue and United have all announced schedule reductions of varying degrees throughout the summer.

Delta Air Lines went so far as to issue a travel waiver allowing customers to rebook their July 4 trip without paying a change fee or fare difference. The waiver is valid until July 8.

Travel advice

Joshua Bush, CEO of travel agency Avenue Two Travel, said travelers should expect delays and long lines, especially at security and check-in. But they can take steps to minimize disruption.

► For those considering last-minute flights or booking new ones, consider flying nonstop when possible, as Bush said it “removes the variables of where things can go wrong,” and fly from a major airport or hub where there are more opportunities for re-routing.

► He also recommended downloading your airline’s app to be notified of changes more quickly and to forgo checked baggage in favor of carry-on baggage. Not only does this reduce the risk of losing your luggage, Bush said, but you can more easily consider flying on hold on another flight.

► If you’re at the airport when your flight is cancelled, Bush advised travelers to go to the gate agent or customer service as soon as possible, which he acknowledges “a lot easier said than done.” to do” at busy airports. You can also call by phone, and he said many airline apps have a chat feature.

“You have at least three different options to try to solve the same problem,” he said.

► Travel insurance can also be useful. Some insurers offer trip interruption, delay and cancellation options and will reimburse passengers whose luggage is lost so that they can buy clothes or claim money to pay for a hotel or buy food at the airport.

“Every policy is different, so go ahead and definitely review them,” he said.

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Although passengers facing delays or cancellations are likely to be frustrated, Bush also urged patience when dealing with gate agents or other representatives.

“If they’ve had 100 people yelling at them and you’re the only nice, patient, kind person to them, they’re going to try even harder to get you where you need to go,” he said. he declares. .

If your flight is canceled and you decide not to rebook, the airline must refund any unused portion of your ticket in cash.

This is true even if your fare is non-refundable. If you experience a significant delay, you may also be entitled to compensation or a refund.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 4th of July air travel could be messy this year:

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