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Your 11 Most Frequently Asked Travel Questions—Answered

As experts and media spokespeople, the editors at SmarterTravel get asked a lot of travel questions. How early should you book? Which booking sites have the cheapest fares? What’s the best way to avoid bag fees?

The good news is that we have answers. From pinpointing the best day of the week for booking airfare to selecting the best destination for your next trip, here are solutions to some of your most common travel questions.

How Far in Advance Should I Book?

man typing on laptop with a coffee in hand

Truth be told, airfare prices—which fluctuate constantly—are impossible to predict. However, there are a few strategies that will guide you to a good deal and minimize your risk of overpaying.

For domestic travel, you’ll typically find the best fares one to two months before your trip. For international itineraries, you’ll often want to start searching for fares a bit further in advance, especially if your dates are firm or you’re traveling at a busy time of year. Add an extra month or two for peak travel times like holidays or major events. Some destinations, such as Disney World during spring break or popular beach spots in August, require even more advance planning, so do your homework.

To help you figure out when to jump on a fare, set up airfare alerts through sites like Airfarewatchdog (SmarterTravel’s sister site) or smartphone apps like Hopper (iOS | Android). You can put in your targeted trip dates and itinerary, and you’ll be notified when the fare drops.

How Can I Find the Best Travel Deal?

We’d love to point you definitively to a single booking site that always has the lowest possible airfares and hotel rates, but, unfortunately, that site doesn’t exist—and shopping around is always required. It’s best to check multiple types of sites before you book, including the provider’s own website as well as online travel agencies (think Expedia and Orbitz) and metasearch sites (like Kayak and SmarterTravel’s parent company, TripAdvisor).

To help you find the best sites to check, see the following lists:

One tip to keep in mind: The more flexible you are, the better the deals will be. Moving your trip a few months from a destination’s peak season to its shoulder season, for example, often means lower prices and smaller crowds. Flying out on a Tuesday or Wednesday rather than a Friday or Sunday can also save you money. For more information, see The Best and Worst Days to Fly.

How Can I Avoid Fees?

Yes, travel fees are pervasive and have wormed their way into every facet of travel, including flights, hotels, and rental cars. The good news is that many can be avoided. When it comes to flying, look for airlines that don’t charge fees for common services like baggage: For example, Southwest allows two checked bags for free, and some airlines will waive bag fees for frequent flyers or travelers who carry their branded credit cards. For more ideas, see 7 Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees.

Many hotel fees can be avoided if you simply say no to certain services. In other words, don’t touch the minibar or make in-room calls (buy your own snacks and use your cell phone instead). Other charges, such as resort fees, are trickier. It’s best to find out about the charge in advance and book with another hotel, or ask the hotel manager to remove it—he or she might say no, but it never hurts to ask.

When renting a car, read the fine print. Look for easily avoidable fees like early-return and fuel charges. Also, most agents will pressure you into buying a collision damage waiver (CDW), but you might already have collision coverage through your credit card or your own auto insurance policy. Always check in advance.

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What Are My Rights When Your Flight Is Delayed or Canceled?

airhelp

When you find yourself faced with a flight delay or cancellation, know that your rights vary depending on whether the situation is the airline’s fault (such as a mechanical delay) or due to some uncontrollable outside force (like a hurricane or winter storm). Every airline’s policy varies, but most state that for delays or cancellations within the airline’s control, passengers are entitled to be rebooked on the next available flight, possibly transferred to another carrier, or to receive a refund for the unused portion of the trip. Some lines will also provide meal vouchers, hotel stays, and ground transportation at their discretion.

When the situation is beyond the airline’s control, a refund is all that most airlines promise. However, for major storms, airlines have set a precedent for preemptively canceling flights in advance so you’re not stranded at the airport, and they will allow you to rebook within a specific time frame without penalty.

To learn more, see Flight-Cancellation Rights: The Ultimate Guide and Flight Delays: What to Do and How to Prevent Them.

Do I Need Travel Insurance?

To buy or not to buy: That is the question when it comes to travel insurance. It all depends on risk and your tolerance for it. In general, if you’re taking a relatively short trip and haven’t paid a fortune for it, you probably don’t need it. Plus, most airlines—and hotels, for that matter—will give you a refund or allow you to rebook when there’s a widespread storm or incident.

However, if you have put down significant nonrefundable deposits, are traveling at a risky time of year (such as hurricane season), have a potential medical condition, or are traveling to remote places where hospitals are scarce, travel insurance could be a good idea.

If you do opt insurance, make sure you know what’s included in your policy; most are very specific and won’t allow coverage to kick in once a storm is predicted or if you have a preexisting medical condition. You can also buy a policy that will allow you to cancel for any reason, but those usually come with a higher premium.

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How Do I Know When a Deal Is Really a Deal?

Sadly, not all travel deals are created equal. And while some are bona fide, others are nothing more than gimmicks, if not downright scams. Your best defense is to take the time to fully research a deal before handing over your credit card number.

First, make sure you’re dealing with a reputable supplier, especially when it comes to tour operators and promoters. If you haven’t heard of the company, check with the Better Business Bureau or United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) to make sure it is sound. Look for online reviews of the company on sites such as TripAdvisor or TrustPilot. Also, always compare prices across multiple suppliers. A deal might look good at first glance, but you may be able to beat the price elsewhere.

When it comes to hotel packages, price out inclusions like gift baskets or spa services separately to determine whether it’s cheaper to go a la carte. For example, many hotels offer individual room rates that are way cheaper than what you’d pay for the room plus the extras in a package. Remember: You can bring your own Champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries (likely higher-quality ones, too).

Lastly, always read the fine print, with a particular eye on blackout dates and other restrictions. You don’t want to get a deal that you can’t even use.

How Do I Score an Upgrade?

man sitting next to empty comfort seat on the plane.

Everyone wants to vault to the front of the airplane cabin or that penthouse suite in the hotel, but most of us feel that an upgrade is out of reach. Not necessarily so. The best way to get upgraded is to join a loyalty program. While it’s hard for many leisure travelers to accrue enough miles for a free first- or business-class ticket, basic upgrades usually require fewer miles. For hotels and rental cars, points generally add up more quickly and you can get additional free perks just for being a member.

Another way to land a better seat is to look for deals; some airlines will launch short-term sales on premium seats. For more information, see First Class for Free: How to Get an Airline Upgrade.

With hotels, arriving late in the day can increase your chances of a better room, since the hotel might have vacant rooms to fill (and can subsequently open up a cheaper room for another paying customer). Also, at check-in, mention if you are celebrating a special occasion like a honeymoon or an anniversary. Check out How to Get a Hotel Upgrade for Free to learn more.

At the rental car desk, asking for an upgrade might work, but make sure you’ve weighed your options: A larger car could mean higher gas costs, which can quickly negate any benefit. In any situation, even with the airlines, it never hurts to ask; when you do, dress nicely, be specific with your request, and above all, be polite.

[st_related]11 Ways to Upgrade Your Next Trip for $100 or Less[/st_related]

What Can I Bring on the Plane?

This is such a complicated topic that SmarterTravel has a whole airport security FAQ to cover it. But here are the basics: In your carry-on, you can bring a single clear, quart-size plastic bag of liquid and gel items (such as shampoo, insect repellent, and sunscreen) in bottles of 3.4 ounces or less. If you need to bring larger quantities, you can put them in your checked bag—just make sure they’re well sealed to prevent messy spills. Exceptions to this rule include prescription medications, breast milk, and baby formula, which you can carry on in larger amounts.

The TSA has strict rules for items such as scissors, razors, sharp objects, and even wrapped gifts. To learn more, see the FAQ above or visit the TSA’s website.

What Should I Pack?

man packing suitcase for upcoming trip with gear spread out

Speaking of complicated topics … where do we begin? Of course, the answer depends on where you’re going and for how long, but you’ll want to start with SmarterTravel’s Ultimate Packing List, which has you covered with the basics you’ll need for just about any type of trip. If you want more specific advice, consider these lists:

You’ll also want to check out Ingenious Packing Tips Every Traveler Should Know, which includes information on how to pack for the TSA’s requirements, tips on saving space, a discussion of whether you should roll or fold your clothes, and clever tips from SmarterTravel readers. Trying to avoid overpacking? See A Traveler’s Guide to Minimalist Packing.

I’m Unhappy with My Seatmate(s) on the Plane. What Can I Do?

SmarterTravel readers often write in with travel questions about airplane seating dilemmas. “I have severe allergies to animals. What are my rights if I am sitting by someone with an animal?” asks one reader.

“I was recently seated next to a large person whose body overhung the armrest and crowded me,” writes another. “What can be done in this situation?”

Generally speaking, your best bet is to approach a flight attendant discreetly and ask if there are any available seats to which you could be moved. In the case of animal allergies, even if no seats are free, the airline staff might be able to find a non-allergic passenger who’s willing to switch with you. Bring up your concerns early—because once the plane has taken off, the flight attendants will have much less flexibility.

For more information, see the following resources:

What Are the Best Travel Destinations, and How Do I Know If They’re Safe?

There’s no single right answer to the first part of this question. It really depends on factors like your personal travel style and when you plan to travel. But there are a few tricks to identifying a great hot spot.

If affordability is a priority, look for destinations with new airline routes or hotels; providers will often release introductory rates at a discount, and you can be among the first to check things out. Additionally, keep an eye out for destinations making a comeback from natural disasters or political unrest; it can take time for tourists to return, even after the place is safe and open for business again, and the low demand can mean great deals for those who are willing to visit.

If you want to go where the excitement is, look for locales with big events, such as major sporting competitions, festivals, and museum openings. Check with the local tourism bureau to see what’s on; you might even stumble upon corresponding deals and packages.

SmarterTravel frequently publishes inspirational lists of places to travel for just about every interest. Check out Top Travel Destinations for 2020 or browse the site’s Destinations section to learn more.

As for safety, your first step is to research your destination on the U.S. State Department’s website. Here you’ll find important travel advisories and information about crime, health concerns, and other safety issues for every country around the world. Pay attention to the details before writing off an entire destination; it may be perfectly safe as long as you steer clear of certain problem areas. Keep an eye on news headlines in the lead-up to your trip so you’re aware of any last-minute issues.

If you have specific concerns, consider posting questions on travel forums such as TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet. Destination experts and locals can often offer up-to-the-minute updates from the ground.

Traveling? Consider Bringing These:

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2012. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Anne Banas and Sarah Schlichter contributed to this story.

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Booking Strategy

Trust in Airlines Hits All-Time Low Thanks to Disruptions

Turns out travelers aren’t exactly thankful for airlines this holiday season, mostly due to frequent flight disruptions. A new study from AirHelp shows that 55 percent of U.S. air travelers don’t trust airlines to fairly handle their compensation claims following late or canceled flights.

AirHelp surveyed over 10,000 travelers from around the world, and found that in general no one really expects airlines to step up in situations like this. Roughly 25 percent of travelers in the survey say they don’t bother filing compensation claims at all because they assume the airlines won’t listen.

[st_related]Flight-Cancellation Rights: The Ultimate Guide[/st_related]

And 73 percent of U.S. travelers who did make a claim gave up after the airline rejected their initial claim, despite many believing there was no good reason (or no reason at all) to reject the claim.

This paints a rather grim picture of air travel this year: Airlines’ reputation for being unreliable and difficult when it comes to compensation claims is so strong that many travelers don’t even bother pursuing them. A cynical observer could conclude this is exactly the point; turn the restitution process into such a headache that travelers stop bothering. Whether that’s the case or not, it’s clear from this survey that most travelers believe the deck is not stacked in their favor. But they also might now know the extent of their rights.

Lack of Awareness of Passenger Rights Laws

Travelers are also in the dark regarding their actual rights. Only a third know they can receive hundreds of dollars from European airlines in the event of a flight disruption, and 81 percent of U.S. passengers don’t realize they qualify for compensation at all, including on European carriers. After all, the E.U. governs airlines based on the carrier’s citizenship, not the passenger’s.

But U.S. airlines could also owe you something. For example, if an airline bumps you from a flight, it owes you 200 percent of the one-way fare, with a $675 maximum, if it can’t get you to your destination within two hours; or 400 percent with a maximum of $1,350 if the delay is more than four hours. Those time limits double for international flights. Download SmarterTravel’s Air Passenger Rights Guide and Flight Cancellation Rights Guide for quick access when you think an airline might owe you something.

As SmarterTravel often reminds readers, and as Forbes recently reminded travelers: “An E.U. regulation known as EC261 entitles passengers on E.U.-based carriers operating anywhere in the world, and those departing Europe aboard non-E.U. airlines to receive up to $650 if their flight is cancelled or delayed more than three hours, or if they are denied boarding even though the airline sold them a ticket for that flight.”

AirHelp contends that despite this law, European carriers nevertheless make it difficult for travelers to get the compensation they are legally entitled to receive.

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Sadly, no such law exists in the U.S., but travelers can seek compensation for similar disruptions, both from their airline and the Department of Transportation. But as long as no laws exist, the burden is on the traveler to not only pursue compensation, but determine exactly what sort of compensation should be given. The only time compensation is required in the U.S. is when a passenger is bumped from a flight: Airlines will try to placate travelers with food vouchers and other non-cash offers, which  often come with short expiration dates or other restrictions. Remember that you can always ask for cash, instead, when you’re bumped.

Bottom line? When it comes to flight disruptions, airlines will try to get away with as little compensation as possible. Whether this means shirking actual laws or simply ignoring their moral obligation, the goal is to end up paying as little as possible to travelers affected by delays and cancellations. For travelers, it’s imperative that you know your rights, understand the “value” of your disruption, and pursue appropriate compensation as far as you can handle. Especially going into the busy holiday travel season, and again when the travel high season of summer rolls around.

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Airport Booking Strategy Road Trip Security

18 Winter Travel Tips for Flights and Road Trips

Successful winter travel is all about successfully navigating the weather. In winter, most travelers hope to get to and from their destinations with minimum trouble and maximum enjoyment—and, most importantly, to always arrive safe and sound, no matter what sort of snow, ice, sleet, or freezing rain you may encounter. To that end, here are some winter travel tips and tactics to help you avoid spending the season stuck in airports or on roadsides.

Winter Travel Tips for Flying

[st_content_ad]1. The worst winter travel problems for travelers frequently occur at connecting airports. If your first outbound flight is canceled and you end up returning to your own home from your local airport, that’s not too bad; if you are stuck in your vacation hotel hoping to get a flight home, that’s a bit worse. But when you’re stuck in a connecting airport in Texas calling hotels and praying for a place to stay, you’re in what I would call your worst-case scenario.

For this reason, you should fly nonstop whenever possible. To find nonstop flights, do all your initial flight searches with the “Nonstop Flights Only” button checked on your favorite booking engine. If you also use search options like “Show Nearby Airports” and “My Dates Are Flexible,” you’ll have a very good sense of how best to get from Point A to B without any Point C for connection.

2. If you absolutely must fly with a connection, watch your layover times carefully. If a weather delay causes you to miss your connection, you might be out of luck; the airline is not necessarily obligated to find you a seat on the next flight, and often cannot logistically do so if flights are full or unavailable. If you have a really tight connection time and your flight is running late, tell a flight attendant who may be able to make arrangements to hold your next flight, or at least get you off your first flight quickly.

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3. Check the weather at your connecting cities as well as at your departure and destination airports. You’ll want to know what the weather is like for the departure and arrival airports (particularly if we’re traveling on vacation), but for the same reasons stated above you’ll want to know what is going on at your connecting airport as well. If the weather looks threatening, contact your airline to see if it can reroute you; it may be in its best interest to do so, and save you a lot of grief. Your chances of getting on a different flight will be greatly enhanced if you’ve already done the research yourself to determine which alternate flights might work best. Don’t count on a gate agent to know about or search the schedules of other airlines.

4. Try to book your connection through a southern city where weather shouldn’t be an issue. There are no guarantees here, as northern airports tend to be better equipped to deal with winter conditions, and a snowstorm can almost wholly shut down an airport that more often suffers from too much sun. However, your odds are better in places that rarely see ice or snow.

5. Choose a morning flight. For two reasons: First, you are far less likely to have your flight affected by problems at other airports. Second, if your flight is canceled or badly delayed, your options for alternate flights are greatly increased, improving your odds for getting on a different flight by the end of the day.

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6. Consider alternative airports. Very often the problem is not solely weather, but also the overall volume of passengers and flights. In places like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Houston, second-tier airports aren’t too far out of town and are tied into the transportation grid.

7. Get ahead of the game at security. Before you even get in line, put all your gear and spare coins into a pocket of your carry-on bag. With so much valuable stuff getting dumped into plastic bins all day, every day, it’s inevitable that stuff gets left behind, dropped, damaged, broken, or even stolen. If you take 15 seconds to stow everything, you’ll make the time up twice over on either side of the security gate, and won’t risk losing cell phones, wallets, keys, and other essentials. Find more airport security tips here and here.

8. The annual holiday travel rule: Don’t wrap gifts—security will have to rip them open. With the TSA searching checked bags as well as carry-ons, this applies to all of your luggage; not just what you bring onto the plane with you. Consider shipping your gifts ahead of time or wrapping them once you get to your destination. Find more holiday-specific winter travel tips here.

9. Finally, avoid peak travel dates as best you can, particularly holiday weekends. Find out the best and worst days to travel around the holidays here.

[st_related]How to Pack for a Winter Vacation[/st_related]

Winter Travel Tips for Driving

1. Put some extra clothing and emergency items into your vehicle; these will come in handy if you break down in cold weather. Assemble a basic kit including a pair of gloves, weather-resistant pants and/or coat, maybe an old pair of boots, a blanket, jumper cables, a flashlight with some extra batteries, and a windshield scraper (and maybe a de-icer), and you should be in good shape. You might also toss a few nutrition bars in as well; things that won’t spoil, are packed with calories, and can bail you out in a pinch.

2. Make sure your car is checked over for winter weather readiness. In particular, you or a mechanic should inspect your tires before the first big winter storm.

[st_related]Top 20 Safe Driving Tips[/st_related]

3. Once your vehicle is inspected and equipped, follow this advice I heard a while back from a Montana snowplow driver: “See and be seen. Keep your headlights and taillights clean, especially in stormy weather. Keep windows clean and make sure defrosters work well. If snow has built up on your vehicle overnight or after a break from driving, clear it away so it doesn’t blow off and obscure your windows.”

4. Slow down. The U.S. Department of Transportation recommends slowing down by about 50 percent in bad weather. Also leave extra space between you and the car in front of you in case of slippery roads.

5. Remember that not all stretches of road are created alike. For example, many recently built small bridges and overpasses have been designed to blend into the surroundings, with a gradual or nonexistent change in elevation. These bridges nonetheless remain susceptible to icing over much more rapidly than regular blacktop. Look out and look ahead for these short stretches of road when temperatures approach or drop below freezing. If you don’t know the ropes of driving on icy surfaces, here’s how to drive on black ice.

6. Some features of modern automobiles may actually serve you poorly in bad conditions. In some SUVs and four-wheel-drive vehicles, for example, you may have better traction when the vehicle is under way, but the four-wheel drive won’t help you stop any faster. Also, skip the cruise control; your cruise control feature may accelerate when you least want it to, such as when you are climbing an icy bridge.

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7. Some safety experts recommend putting a bag of kitty litter in the trunk, both for added ballast to offer better traction, and to put under the wheels if you need to get yourself out of a slippery spot.

8. If you’re stranded and have to stay in your car, you can run the engine for heat, but make sure the exhaust pipe is not obstructed by snow or mud. If you prefer not to have the engine running the whole time, close the windows to keep heat in, and run the car for 10 minutes every hour, cracking open a front window when you do so.

9. If you are parking at your hotel or near attractions in bad weather, opt for a spot in an indoor parking garage when available.

Readers: What winter travel tips would you add? Post them in the comments.

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Editor’s Note: This story was written in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Airport Booking Strategy

Return of Troubled Boeing 737 MAX Planes Will Come in Phases

Update: September 27, 2019

Boeing management’s recent announcements, along with other news reports, indicate that the return of the 737 MAX will be “phased.” Training sessions for American Airlines pilots are scheduled through mid-October with returns of the aircraft possible late this year, according to the Dallas Morning News. But apparently Europe and Asia are likely to take longer than that  to clear the planes for service, so you may not see flights in those areas until sometime early in 2020.

For the rest of the year and in early 2020, unexpected schedule changes should not be a noticeable problem for passengers: Airlines have been pushing the planned operational 737 MAX dates steadily, so as to avoid premature schedule changes. When you see a MAX on a schedule, it’s very likely to be confirmed. And, according to the FAA, it will be safe.

Readers: Are you concerned about getting back on a Boeing 737 MAX after the Ethiopian and Lion Air crashes grounded the model? Comment below.

Editor’s note: The below original story was published in June 2019.

The FAA has reportedly uncovered a new issue with Boeing’s 737 MAX models that will likely extend cancellations of flights using the model into fall. The Boeing model was globally grounded following two fatal plane crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia (in a span of four months) that pointed to a Boeing flight system flaw. The software issue is thought to have pointed the nose of the plane downward even despite pilot intervention, causing tragic crashes that killed everyone on board.

According to late-June reports, simulator pilots discovered a new flaw in the Boing 737 aircraft control system—the system generally considered to be an important contributing cause of the Lion Air and Ethiopian crashes. The new flaw is in the same MCAS anti-stall system, which is designed to compensate for the airframe and engine upgrades from earlier 737s, but this time the problem may be hardware, not just software. Specifically, in simulator runs, pilots discovered that failure of a microprocessor in the stabilizer system could potentially have the same effect as the software glitch: pushing the nose of the aircraft downward.

This latest discovery will almost surely result in a further delay in return of the 737 MAX to airline service. The objective is to make it safe before making it available. In other words: Don’t expect to fly in a MAX any time soon, but when they return, travelers can be confident they’re safe.

Waiting on a Boeing Fix

In early June, the 737 MAX aircraft had already seen extended cancellations through the rest of the busy summer flying season (until Labor Day) by at least one major airline: American Airlines. In a statement, American said that the initial cancellations stemming from the grounding were set to run through August 19, but have now been extended through September 3. “By extending the cancellations, our customers and team members can more reliably plan their upcoming travel on American,” the airline added. “In total, approximately 115 flights per day” were canceled. American operates two dozen 737 MAX planes out of a fleet of 900 aircraft.

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As for the eventuality of a fix to the grounded planes, American says it “remains confident that impending software updates to the Boeing 737 MAX, along with the new training elements Boeing is developing in coordination with our union partners, will lead to recertification of the aircraft soon.”

The airline also explained that “not all flights that were previously scheduled on a MAX will be canceled, as we plan to substitute other aircraft types.” Put differently, the airline will cancel flights on some routes—likely lower-volume routes—to free up aircraft it can substitute in place of higher-volume routes served by the MAX. American says its goal is to “minimize the impact to the smallest number of customers.”

Boeing reportedly completed work on a software fix for its troubled aircraft back in May, but neither the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) nor its international counterparts have signed off on it.

“Boeing has said it is redesigning the software so that pilots can more easily shut off the system, keeping it from repeatedly reengaging, and not making it react as dramatically in pushing down the nose,” according to USA Today. “Rather than relying on data from a single sensor, the new system will take a measure of both sensors that tell the system whether the nose is pointed too high.”

There is no indication from the FAA of a timeline for approval, and one can imagine the agency will take its time to ensure the issue is truly corrected. However, the discovery of a new problem with the aircraft suggests the MAX will not be re-certified before the end of the summer travel season, and more likely not until the fall. The 737 MAX has been grounded since mid-March 2019.

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This story was originally published on June 10, 2019. It has been updated to reflect to most current information. SmarterTravel writers Carl Unger, Ed Perkins, and Editor Shannon McMahon contributed to this story. 

Categories
Booking Strategy Health & Wellness

Hurricanes and Travel: What Your Options Are When One Threatens Your Vacation

Do you know what to do if a hurricane strikes your vacation destination? The course of action for canceling a trip and/or trying to get a refund vary depending on the trip. From buying travel insurance to rescheduling flights, here’s everything you need to know about hurricanes and travel.

Airlines

All airlines follow the same general pattern. If your scheduled flight to/from an airport within a specified impact zone within a stated period is cancelled due to a hurricane at either end of the flight, you have two general options:

  • If you want to get on with your trip, you can rebook an available seat to the same destination in the same cabin with no change fee and at the same fare, within a limited time, usually just a few weeks. If you want to reschedule a flight beyond that date, you face paying at whatever the going fare is at the time—and maybe a change fee. Airline policies generally say you “may” be subject to a change fee rather than you “will” be charged, but that sort of vague proposition doesn’t help with post-hurricane planning. My guess is that most travelers “will” have to pay. In effect, you’re no better off than if you had cancelled the flight, yourself.
  • If you want to abort your trip, you are entitled to a full refund, even on a totally nonrefundable ticket.

Airlines have become quite pro-active in severe weather events, cancelling trips as soon as a threat is recognized rather than waiting until the event actually hits.

Although all airlines follow the same general policy, details differ. The most significant detail is how much time the airline gives you for a replacement flight without triggering a fare difference or change penalty. Even the most generous of these policies is too tight for many trips. If your cancelled trip was to visit friends or relatives, for example, presumably they would need more than a couple of weeks to recover from any substantial damage to their homes or disruptions of their lives. And local hotels and resorts may well take months to recover.

Obviously, if you need to get to your destination ASAP, even up to a week or two late, and if your original ticket is at a good fare, take the airline’s no-fee, short-term rebook option. The downside may be limited availability of replacement seats. But if you don’t have a great fare you want to lock in, by all means, forget about immediate rescheduling and get your refund: You have a lot more flexibility about rescheduling.

[st_related]How to Get a Refund on a Nonrefundable Ticket [/st_related]

Cruises During Hurricanes

Hurricanes can hit almost any Atlantic, Caribbean, or Gulf coast port. If you’re on a cruise scheduled to leave from an impacted seaport, or scheduled to visit an impacted port, presumably your cruise line will reschedule your cruise for another time, reschedule your itinerary, or offer you a credit toward a future cruise.

Unlike airlines, cruise lines have wide loopholes in their contracts that allow them to change itineraries without your right to a refund. Accordingly, they’re unlikely to offer an actual refund, instead limiting you to a future cruise credit. And that can be sticky: Some cruise credits require that you rebook a substitute sailing within six months, which is not practical for many travelers.

Given how stingy cruise lines are when dealing with irregular operations, consider trip-cancellation insurance (TCI) when you buy a cruise, even if you don’t normally buy it.

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Hotels and Vacation Rentals

No rules or regulations other than general contract law cover your rights with hotel and rental bookings. And big hotel chains and resorts may or may not make proactive cancellations and re-bookings due to severe weather. An inquiry to one giant hotel chain asking specifically about cancellations and refunds returned a bland statement about support for victims and nothing at all about cancellations and refunds. A website statement at HomeAway, the giant vacation rental agency, simply suggests you contact property owners or managers.

Clearly, I found nothing specific or even reassuring from any hotel or vacation rental source. That means, realistically, you’re on your own to negotiate the best deal you can with the property. Although you should get a full refund, the supplier might not offer it, instead offering credit toward a future stay. Fighting in court may or may not be justified by the amounts involved. Instead, buy TCI.

[st_related]Travel Insurance Coverage: 13 Things Your Policy Won’t Cover [/st_related]

Travel Insurance and Hurricanes

TCI can minimize financial risks of having a hurricane hit your flight, cruise or vacation destination. Natural disasters such as hurricanes are a “covered reason” for cancellation on almost all policies, and they pay whatever you can’t recover from an airline, cruise line, hotel, or vacation rental. TCI is especially important in the case of a cruise, resort, or vacation rental, where your right to a refund, if any, is limited by a supplier’s typically unilateral and self-serving policies

One problematic area in TCI is common to most policies: Typically, TCI policies limit coverage to circumstances, even covered reasons, that are “unforeseen” at the time you buy the policy. So if you buy TCI when a tropical depression in the Atlantic or Gulf has already headed toward landfall somewhere along the coast, maybe even with a diagram from the National Weather Service, “foreseeable” is problematic. And if you wait to buy it until after a hurricane or major storm has been identified or named, insurance won’t cover you.

For maximum protection and minimum risk, buy TCI as soon as you make a substantial nonrefundable payment, and buy it from a third-party insurance agency, not from the airline, cruise line, or tour operator—the coverage is better. If you really want to minimize risk and be in full control of your options, buy a “cancel for any reason” TCI policy.

What to Pack for Your Next Vacation

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuses every day at SmarterTravel.

This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Passenger Rights

For Better or Worse, These Canadian Air Rights Changes Could Affect You

New airline passenger protections have passed for our neighbor to the north, offering increased Canadian air rights for travelers impacted by delays and other air travel inconveniences. But advocates on both sides—the airlines and some consumer groups—are not happy with the new rules.

What Changes, and When

The protections cover a wide range of issues, from overbooked flights to lost bags to tarmac delays. Here are a few highlights of the changing Canadian air rights:

  • Up to $1,000 compensation for delayed or cancelled flights (within the airline’s control)
  • Up to $2,100 for lost luggage
  • Up to $2,400 for being bumped from a flight
  • Reasonable food and drink during flight delays, plus accommodations for overnight delays
  • Mandatory rebookings when delays pass three hours
  • Planes must return to the gate and allow passenger to de-board when a tarmac delay exceeds three hours

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Some of these rules take effect now, but others—notably the rules focused on delays, cancellations, and rebookings—won’t go into effect until December 15. The new rules apply to all flights to, from, and within Canada, including connecting flights. That means Americans, or anyone else flying through Canada, can expect increased rights.

Why Some Are Unhappy

Despite appearing comprehensive and rather reasonable, the new rules aren’t exactly going over well with airlines or consumer advocates, according to the CBC.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), and international airline trade group, contends that the new rules violate international agreements, and a federal court to invalidate the regulations. But while it isn’t necessarily surprising that the airlines would be displeased with strict new regulations on their industry, it is a bit surprising that airline consumer groups are criticizing the rules as well.

In particular, some disability rights group say the tarmac delay rules don’t go far enough to protect passengers who can’t sit for prolonged lengths of time. In those cases, the three-hour tarmac delay allotment can extend a long but manageable flight into an unmanageable ordeal.

Overall, however, these new regulations bring a measure of reassurance and protection to travelers flying through Canadian airspace, including American travelers flying to or connecting through Canada.

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Airport Booking Strategy Passenger Rights Travel Technology

How to Check Flight Delays Nationwide, in One Map

[st_content_ad]When airlines hit major scheduling turbulence (metaphorically speaking), it can be hard to know where to turn for a comprehensive look at your chances of facing a flight delay or cancellation.

Emergency situations can occur without notice, as proven by incidents like airport computer failures, emergency safety groundings, and even government shutdowns. And airlines and/or government agencies typically issue announcements only about specific flight delays and cancellations, and only individually, and to customers holding a ticket, within hours of the change. This is all to say: It can be hard to get the full picture of what air traffic delays truly look like on a given day beyond waiting until you’re at the airport and getting notified.

But there is a little-known service monitoring the state of the skies. Here’s the one place you can check all of the live delays across the country.

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Misery Map: Tracking Flight Delays in Real Time

FlightAware.com misery map flight delays

Delays and cancellations usually result from weather and other circumstances beyond an airline’s control, but looking out the window to see what your likelihood of being delayed isn’t always your best bet. Because any sudden delays and cancellations can ruin a vacation, in addition to checking in via app with your airline (so you can receive live updates) you should also check the flight delay website FlightAware. It offers two great tools to help travelers visualize the overall state of the skies.

First, travelers can browse FlightAware’s live flight delay statistics, which show how many flights are delayed or canceled for the current day. You can click one specific airline to see how it’s doing—here’s Southwest, for example—but the broader view provides some helpful context. And if you’re lucky enough to find out about widespread flight delays or cancellations before most other travelers do, it’s wise to get on the phone with the airline to see if you can get ahead in terms of being rescheduled before seats run out.

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For map-appreciating people like myself, the site’s aptly named Misery Map displays the data by destination, and overlays a current radar image to show where weather may impact arrivals and departures. Hovering over a destination displays routes that are experiencing delays and highlights routes that are on time.

Tools like this don’t eliminate delays from your future travels, but they do help you plan and, hopefully, bring some comfort in knowing you aren’t the only one slogging through a disrupted schedule. It’s a good idea to bookmark the Misery Map for the next time you’re wondering what the chances are you’ll see a flight delay.

Readers: Would you use this in an uncertain time of frequent flight delays? On a normal travel day? Comment below.

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Health & Wellness Passenger Rights Security

How to Find Out if U.S. Emergency Grounding of Boeing 737 MAX 8 Planes Will Affect You

On Wednesday, the United States and Canada joined almost every other country and dozens of airlines in grounding Boeing’s 737 MAX 8 planes closely following the second deadly crash of the brand-new aircraft model in recent months. A tragic Ethiopian Airlines crash that killed everyone onboard Sunday followed the deadly October Lion Air crash the went down near Jakarta. Both planes went down without warning, just after takeoff, and in both crashes, all passengers and crew were killed.

President Trump issued an emergency order Wednesday afternoon grounding all Boeing 737 MAX 8 and 9s, according to the Associated Press. The MAX 9 is a more recent version of the plane that will likely be affected by any safety findings regarding the MAX 8. The immediate response to the move could be some last-minute delayed flights, as the U.S. operates a total of 72 Boeing 737 MAX 8 and 9 planes.

The U.S.-based airlines operating Boeing 737 MAX 8s are American Airlines, which has 24, and Southwest, which operates 34. United operates 14 of the MAX 9. Canadian airlines operating the model are Air Canada (41), Sunwing (four), and WestJet (13). European airlines that fly the 737 MAX models are Icelandair (three) and Norwegian (18).

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Here’s how to check flight delays nationwide to see if your airport could be affected:

On delay-tracking website FlightAware, “travelers can browse live flight delay statistics, showing how many flights are delayed or canceled for the current day,” SmarterTravel’s own Carl Unger has written. “You can click one specific airline to see how it’s doing—here’s Southwest, for example—but the broader view provides some helpful context.”

“For map-appreciating people like myself, the site’s aptly-named Misery Map displays the data by destination and overlays a current radar image to show where weather may impact arrivals and departures. Hovering over a destination displays routes that are experiencing delays and highlights routes that are on time.”

As for finding out if your plane for an upcoming flight was set to be on a Boeing 737 MAX 8, a simple search on your airline and flight number on SeatGuru or FlightAware can typically tell you. It also helps to have the SmarterTravel Air Passenger Rights Guide handy any time you’re delayed, so you know what you have the right to be compensated for.

For more on this developing story, see Will the 737 MAX Fly Again? Where Trust in Boeing Goes Now.

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SmarterTravel’s Shannon McMahon is a former news reporter who writes about all things travel. Follow her on Instagram @shanmcmahon.

Categories
Airport Booking Strategy In-Flight Experience Passenger Rights

Airlines Already Owe Travelers Almost $300 Million for Disrupted Flights in 2018

Analysis from AirHelp, a company that (for a fee) helps people get refunds and compensation from airlines following disrupted flights, says airlines already owe an estimated $290 million for delayed, cancelled or overbooked flights this year. The data refers specifically to U.S. travelers onboard flights operating under European Union jurisdiction.

According to AirHelp, “an estimated 415,800 US passengers have experienced a delayed, cancelled or overbooked flight throughout the first six months of 2018 … The number of US passengers entitled to compensation, as well as the amount US passengers are owed, have both increased by nearly 60% compared to last year.”

[st_related] The Vast Majority of Americans Don’t Know Their Air Travel Rights [/st_related]

AirHelp says approximately 260,000 experienced these issues during the same period last year. The company cites overwhelmed airports and a deepening shortage of pilots as reasons for these disruptions. Both factors could continue to drive delays and cancellations for months to come.

Money on the Table

The gist of AirHelp’s message is simple: There’s a lot of money out there that travelers may or may not realize they’re owed. EU law is particularly generous.

[st_content_ad]”For delayed or canceled flights, and in instances of denied boarding, passengers may be entitled to financial compensation of up to $700 per person in certain circumstances,” AirHelp points out. “The conditions for this stipulate that the departure airport must be within the EU, or the airline carrier must be based in the EU and landing in the EU. What’s more, the reason for the flight delay must be caused by the airline. Compensation may be claimed within three years of the disrupted flight.”

Out of Luck in the U.S.

The U.S. has far less comprehensive rules. The Department of Transportation does not mandate compensation minimums for delayed or cancelled flights, but according to the DOT, “In the case of cancelled flights you are entitled to a refund for the unused transportation – even for non-refundable tickets.”

We have a helpful roundup of your full rights as a traveler.

Readers, have you ever sought compensation for a delayed or cancelled flight under EU law? Have you ever tried to get a refund here in the U.S.? Share your experience below.

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Booking Strategy In-Flight Experience Passenger Rights Security

Allegiant Air Safety Issues Have Persisted for Years, Investigation Finds

Have you questioned flying Southwest since its deadly engine failure made headlines this spring? The incident might have overshadowed a watershed safety moment for another low-cost airline—one that’s long faced questions about its safety: Allegiant Air.

A recent 60 Minutes special rekindled questions around Allegiant’s incident record, following a 2016 report that found Allegiant’s aircraft were four times as likely to fail during flight as those operated by other major U.S. airlines. 60 Minutes did a deep dive on the airline’s safety record since then, and found little has changed.

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Is Allegiant Air Safe?

The crux of 60 Minutes’ findings is this:

For the past seven months, we have been scrutinizing ‘service difficulty reports’ filed by Allegiant with the FAA. They are official, self-reported records of problems experienced by their aircraft. What we found raised some disturbing questions about the performance of their fleet. Between January 1st, 2016 and the end of last October, we found more than 100 serious mechanical incidents, including mid-air engine failures, smoke and fumes in the cabin, rapid descents, flight control malfunctions, hydraulic leaks and aborted takeoffs.

The airline has had “persistent problems since at least the summer of 2015,” the report adds, “when it experienced a rash of mid-air breakdowns, including five on a single day.”

A Pattern of Problems

What makes the Allegiant situation more notable, however, is that we aren’t talking about a short period of time. As 60 Minutes notes, the carrier has had persistent, consistent safety and maintenance difficulties for years.

All airlines experience occasional, isolated mechanical issues.  Sometimes even a spate of problems in a row—Southwest, for example, had a rough stretch this spring with multiple, newsworthy incidents over a short period of time. The Tampa Bay Times’ bombshell reporting on Allegiant’s maintenance record, though, came out in November 2016, and we’re still talking about what appear to be systemic problems.

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Just this week, an Allegiant Air flight made an emergency landing due to smoke in the cabin. This followed another emergency landing in May due to an “electrical smell.” And that followed another in April due to a faulty sensor. And there was yet another in April.

In a statement to 60 Minutes, Allegiant’s Vice President of Operations, Captain Eric Gust, said: “All of us at Allegiant are proud of our strong safety record, as noted in the most current, comprehensive FAA audit. We not only comply with all mandatory safety regulations and guidelines, but also participate in numerous voluntary safety programs. Simply stated, safety is at the forefront of our minds and the core of our operations.”

It’s worth noting that this response differs from Allegiant’s in 2016, when Allegiant CEO Maurice Gallagher Jr. said the company would be “focused on running a better operation.”

Out with the Old

60 Minutes suggests these problems are the result of the way Allegiant runs its business: “The business strategy which has produced 60 straight quarters of profits, occasionally with margins approaching 30 percent, requires the airline to keep costs down and ‘push the metal’—keep the planes flying as often as possible,” the report says. “But Allegiant’s aged fleet of MD-80s, which it is phasing out and is responsible for most of its problems, require a lot of maintenance and reliable parts are hard to come by.”

How old can an airline fleet be, really? MD-80s are rarely flown in the U.S. these days, and most airlines have retired them in favor of newer, modern aircraft. Allegiant is finally doing the same. The airline is transitioning to an all-Airbus fleet, and is steadily introducing those aircraft to its active roster. Its MD-80s should be fully retired by year’s end. That said, the most recent emergency landing, due to smoke in the cabin, involved … one of its new Airbus planes.

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Where’s the Oversight?

60 Minutes also points fingers at the FAA. “Over the last three years, the FAA has switched its priorities from actively enforcing safety rules with fines, warning letters and sanctions—which become part of the public record—to working quietly with the airlines behind the scenes to fix the problems,” the report says.

However, in a letter to CBS shared with Skift.com, the FAA pushed back on suggestions of lax oversight, saying Allegiant received more attention than other carriers, and that the FAA accelerated a review of the airline’s procedures.

“This review did not find any systematic safety or regulatory problems, but did identify a number of less serious issues, which Allegiant addressed,” according to the letter. The agency says it has found no “significant or systematic problem” in evaluations following that review.

Unsafe, or Just Unreliable?

Amidst all this back and forth, one simple, common truth emerges: At best, Allegiant is simply far less reliable than other airlines. “Perhaps the piece was sensational,” Brian Sumers wrote for Skift, “but it did tell the public what insiders have long known—Allegiant is less reliable than U.S. major carriers.”

There’s a subtle but crucial distinction to be made here between “unreliable” and “unsafe.” For all the incidents Allegiant has encountered, it seems to take the issue seriously and is moving to modernize its fleet with more reliable aircraft. And so far, thankfully, those incidents have been relatively minor—at least in outcome, if not experience for the passengers onboard.

But a new aircraft fleet and all those statements of good intent won’t matter at all if these issues continue, or get worse.

Readers, do you fly Allegiant? Have you ever encountered a problem onboard? Comment below.

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Passenger Rights

The Vast Majority of Americans Don’t Know Their Air Travel Rights

A new survey of over 2,000 people across the U.S. found that a whopping 92 percent of Americans don’t know what their air travel rights are when they take to the sky, and this lack of understanding costs travelers $6 billion in unclaimed compensation every year. The study was conducted by AirHelp, a company that helps air passengers secure compensation for delayed, canceled, or overbooked flights.

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The study also finds that 75 percent of U.S. air travelers feel uninformed by the airlines, and 77 percent of air passengers who have suffered a disrupted flight don’t file a claim in the US.

AirHelp pins the blame on poor communication of air travel rights from the airlines.

“What this shows is that the implementation of air passenger rights regulation EC 261, a 14-year-old law that also covers U.S. citizens traveling to and from Europe, is not widespread enough,” the survey concludes. “The three main reasons passengers did not file for compensation included: they were not aware of their rights (63 percent), they did not think that they were eligible for compensation (47 percent) and they did not know how to file a claim (42 percent).”

Passenger rights advocates have long fought for greater transparency on behalf of travelers. Just this past November, a congressman from Minnesota introduced legislation that would require airlines to provide customers with a one-page outline of their rights.

But the precise details of when passengers can and can’t receive compensation can be confusing. We created a free, wallet-sized guide to airline passenger rights, which you can fold up and take with you every time you fly. It’s helpful and you should download it today, but the fact that we had to create it speaks to the need for greater transparency from the airlines, not to mention the government.

Readers, do you know your rights? Have you ever sought compensation for a delay or cancellation?

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Categories
Airport Booking Strategy Health & Wellness Security Travel Trends

Here’s How a Government Shutdown Affects Your Travel

When the federal government shuts down, as it did over the weekend, the resulting uncertainty and confusion impinge on many areas of life, including travel. With hundreds of thousands of government workers thrown out of work, how will essential services be affected?

As we go to press on Monday morning, a Senate vote is imminent on a short-term spending package that would keep government services funded through February 8. If passed by the Senate, the House would also have to approve the measure before the government can resume operating normally. But that’s just a temporary fix, that may or may not be extended, leaving open the possibility of yet another shutdown.

On a positive note, workers whose jobs are considered “essential” will not be furloughed, although they won’t receive paychecks until the government is back in operation.

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In the travel sphere, essential workers include air traffic controllers, Customs and Border Protection agents, and Transportation Security Administration personnel. That means that commercial air travel should remain mostly unaffected.

On the other hand, such non-essential services as passport and visa processing will only continue until the money runs out, according to the State Department.

National parks and historic monuments are a mixed bag. While most parks remain open, rangers and other federal employees won’t be working, and visitor centers and full-service restrooms will be closed.

Many landmarks, like Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, are closed, but New York has committed to underwriting the costs to keep the Statue of Liberty open to the public, and the state of Arizona is doing the same for the Grand Canyon.

Amtrak, the government-subsidized train service, will operate normally.

The last government shutdown, in 2013, lasted more than two weeks, during which more than 800,000 federal workers were furloughed. The economic impact of that event has been estimated at a $24 billion loss to the economy. That’s a big number, but in the context of a $20 trillion national economy, it’s not much more than a rounding error.

Reader Reality Check

Has the government shutdown affected you?

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Categories
Airport Booking Strategy Experiential Travel In-Flight Experience Passenger Rights Travel Trends

It’s Not Just You – Air Travel Really Has Gotten Worse

Just how bad has travel become? According to a new Morning Consult survey conducted on behalf of the U.S. Travel Association, it’s so bad that Americans avoided 32 million airline trips during the past year, resulting in $24 billion in foregone spending.

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[st_content_ad]A majority (51 percent) of survey respondents reported that air travel has become more of a hassle in the past five years; only 9 percent felt the travel experience had improved. Among the specific gripes cited were the following:

  • Airline fees
  • Overall cost of flying
  • Airport hassles (long lines, crowded terminals, etc.)
  • Government taxes on airline tickets
  • Security screening
  • Delays and cancellations
  • Onboard comfort

While airline fees and the overall cost of flying were by far the most complained about, the survey chose to drill down into travelers’ dissatisfaction with the airport experience instead. Among the airport-related findings:

  • 53% of frequent business travelers would have taken more trips if airport hassles were reduced or eliminated.
  • 55% of frequent leisure travelers would have taken more trips if airport hassles were reduced or eliminated.
  • 60% of respondents want Congress to “modernize airport and traffic control infrastructure to make flying more efficient.”

Apparently reluctant to implicate the airlines in the travel mess, the following received scant attention:

  • 55% want Congress to “prioritize the needs of passengers.”
  • 54% want Congress to regulate how airlines treat their passengers.

The survey seems to have been designed with certain preconceptions in mind, specifically that the root of the current dissatisfaction with travel is primarily a reflection of a degraded airport experience. In fact, the results suggest that airline fees and fares are the prime irritants.

Whether it’s airlines or airports or some combination of the two, the takeaway is that the travel experience is worsening rather than improving.

Reader Reality Check

What say you: Is travel getting better or worse?

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

[st_newsletter]

Categories
Airport Booking Strategy Health & Wellness In-Flight Experience

Atlanta Airport’s Big Meltdown: The Takeaway

Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the world’s busiest, is back in business after being completely shut down for almost 11 hours between 1:00 p.m. and 11:55 p.m. on Sunday.

“Back in business” in this case includes the business of reaccommodating the thousands of travelers whose flights were canceled last night.

The cause of the electrical outage was a fire at one of the three Georgia Power substations at the airport. The entire airport was left without power.

Passengers on inbound flights were stranded on the tarmac for hours, as jetways couldn’t be deployed to transfer them to the terminal. Departing passengers were ushered this way and that by airline and airport workers whose efforts were uncoordinated and whose advice was often contradictory. There were no lights in the terminals. Elevators, escalators, and moving walkways were immobilized. Airport shops were unable to sell food or beverages to affected travelers. It was a mess.

The chaos overwhelmed airport authorities, Georgia Power, Delta, and local government officials, all of whom were left dissembling and prevaricating, if they could be bothered to comment at all. (Even in the middle of the shutdown, Georgia Power issued a news release assuring the public that “Georgia Power has many redundant systems in place to ensure reliability for the Airport and its millions of travelers—power outages affecting the Airport are very rare.”)

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If one of the world’s largest, busiest airports is susceptible to such an outage, then any airport is. And while electrical outages are indeed rare, as Georgia Power suggests, weather and mechanical incidents are more frequent, and can cause similar travel disruptions.

What (if Anything) to Do

So, is there anything you can do to prevent such disruptions? No; they’re beyond your control.

Is there anything you can do to mitigate the effects of such disruptions, when they do occur? Not much.

While stuff happens, it doesn’t happen often enough to justify travel insurance. If you happen to have a credit card that comes bundled with flight-delay or cancellation insurance, fine. But extra-cost insurance isn’t worth it.

You can be prepared by having airline reservations and local hotel numbers available on your phone’s speed dial—although in the case of the Atlanta meltdown, there was apparently limited cell service.

In some cases, it behooves stranded flyers to leave the airport and check into a local hotel until the airline can confirm a seat on a departing flight. But in the Atlanta case, travelers had no idea whether they were facing temporary delays or outright cancellations.

In short, there’s little travelers can do to minimize the frustration and stress of flight disruptions, other than be mentally prepared for them (to minimize the initial shock), and remain calm and courteous when they do occur (to help keep the general level of air rage from escalating).

Reader Reality Check

Are you prepared for the next air-travel meltdown?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Categories
Airport Booking Strategy Health & Wellness Holiday Travel

Pilot Crisis Averted: American Restores Holiday Flights

If American Airlines’ recent scheduling glitch left you wondering whether your holiday flight would be cancelled for lack of available pilots, you can now rest easy.

According to the airline’s statement:

We are pleased to report that together, American and the Allied Pilots Association have put that worry to rest to make sure our flights will operate as scheduled. By working together, we can assure customers that among the many stresses of the season, worrying about a canceled flight won’t be one of them. In short, if Santa is flying, so is American.

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The software issue that allowed too many pilots to be approved for vacation time during the travel-heavy last two weeks of December would have resulted in the cancellation of as many 15,000 flights. When the problem was detected, it sparked a skirmish between American and its pilots union, which took exception to the company’s handling of the matter. The airline and the union both confirm that their differences have been resolved.

While the threat of widespread flight disruptions may be gone, it won’t soon be forgotten. The Seattle Times reports that one airline analyst is predicting the meltdown will cost American $10 million in overtime pay to get the pilots back into their seats.

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

[st_newsletter]