Think twice before flying this 4th of July weekend

There I was, pacing barefoot on the seaweed-covered shore of Miami’s South Beach, trying to reason with an American Airlines travel rep about why I needed a place to spend the night. night.

I received a notification from my phone’s wallet app half an hour earlier — just four hours before my flight departed — that my evening flight to San Francisco had just been cancelled. The airline had offered a replacement flight the next morning, a mea culpa shrug, and after some pleas and pleas, this hotel and a $12 meal voucher. Little did I know that this minor delay was a wake-up call for a nightmarish experience at the airport a few hours later – an experience that surely doesn’t bode well for travelers departing this July 4th weekend.

After complaining about my canceled flight to my friends and family, I was warned by several people (including my mother) that cancellations were commonplace for flyers this week. Even the security guard at the hotel where American Airlines put me up for the night warned me that the situation in the air was bad. He said that modest hotel had been packed for weeks.

This next part, admittedly, was on me. I arrived at Miami International Airport an hour before my morning flight departed, which I did at SFO just a month ago with no problems.


Alas. The security lines were the worst I had seen in a very, very long time – a confluence of international jet-setters and retarded fellow travelers. What’s an average 12-minute wait at the TSA took over 40 minutes, even with the miniscule mercy of badass agents letting me keep my shoes and laptop in my backpack to speed things up.

I rushed to my door in my Birkenstocks, running at least a quarter mile, only to find that they had locked the door five minutes before I arrived. The naturally unfriendly flight attendants told me about the airline’s standard 10-minute policy. (This rule, by the way, is apparently not enforced with any consistency – and this was the first time I had heard of such a policy being enforced.)

I ended up snagging a rescheduled flight, along with my canceled flight the day before. Canceling my flight the night before made this part slightly easier, as I could rebook my flight from my phone. That’s the good part.

The bad part? Airlines are absolute hell right now.

The queue to the American Airlines reservation center was at least 100 people. People in line were reaching out to family members on the phone and reporting stray employees for help. A group about three quarters from the line told me they had waited at least four hours.

Even the most upscale airport amenities have been removed. In order to make the most of my 10 hour wait, I splurged on a non-refundable day pass for the airport lounge. It was a bust. A more understanding woman at the counter told me that they have banned all day pass holders for the foreseeable future given the sheer volume of canceled flights and irritated flyers. (A strange policy, but I digress.)

What I still don’t know is why the airport experience has been so hellish lately. A spokesperson for American Airlines did not immediately respond by asking me this same question, although their response was probably not too different from the industry’s already vague line of argument: a staff shortage, associated to holidays and pent-up pandemic demand. But Andrew R. Thomas, a marketing professor at the University of Akron and an expert and author on congested airports and unruly passengers, said this problem is a long time coming.

In addition to mass layoffs during the pandemic, many pilots and air traffic controllers retired early, and others quit because they refused to meet vaccination mandates, he said. There is also a “lack of pipeline for newcomers” before the pandemic, he added.

Airline mechanics and the Transportation Security Administration have also felt the pinch of staff reductions, he said.

“A problem that was looming on the horizon but never really solved,” he said in a text message. “… It’s the same everywhere in all industries. Must do [do] with far fewer people. It looks bad.

So as I type this in an airport food court, I beg anyone with a flight this weekend: reconsider your air travel. Reschedule if you can. (Some airlines are now offering free reservations.) It really is hell here.

And if you have non-negotiable (or non-refundable) travel plans, please, for God’s sake, arrive one hour before your normal arrival at the airport. Double or even triple that if you’re traveling overseas. Please don’t make my mistake.

#flying #4th #July #weekend

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