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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?


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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Booking Strategy

Does Travel Insurance Cover a Missed Connection Involving Two Airlines?

Despite all the technical advances, air travel remains subject to occasional sudden delays, a situation not likely to change very fast. And unless you get a single flight from your starting point to your final destination, delays of more than a few minutes can sometimes cause you to miss a connecting flight. But there are some conditions that can complicate things.

A reader once asked, for example, if it’s smart to buy the cheapest fare when it’s two separate tickets on two different airlines:

“If I buy two separate tickets, on two different airlines, and the first flight arrives too late to make my connection, would travel insurance cover the costs of re-arranging my trip?”

The short answer: It’s unlikely. While no insurance companies seem to specifically cover this kind of missed connection, some policy protections could apply. Here’s what you need to know.

The Two-Ticket Problem

Let’s say that, on a connecting itinerary, your first flight is delayed so much that you miss your connection. On a through ticket, you’d have no problem—your connecting airline would put you on the next available flight without added charge. And, depending on the circumstances, one of the airlines might even pick up the tab for meals or an overnight accommodation.

But if you have two separate tickets on two different airlines, neither airlines is responsible for the other’s delay, and therefore not responsible for rebooking you. Over the years, I’ve heard from quite a few readers who faced such a problem. Yet as the airline system continues to fragment, it’s more likely than ever to find that the lowest airfare is two separate tickets.

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Unfortunately, for various reasons, several important airlines do not interline and write through tickets with any others, or they may interline with only one or two other lines. That includes airlines carrying significant numbers of travelers both in the U.S. (Southwest) and Europe (Ryanair and EasyJet), along with such smaller lines as Allegiant, Frontier, Spirit, and many, smaller European and Asian lines. If you want to connect to or from these lines, you’ll have to buy two tickets.

Nor can you count on the airline that caused the delay to help you, either. Contracts specifically say that an airline isn’t responsible for scheduled arrival or bears no financial liability for any loss you suffer because of a late arrival.

Does Insurance Help?

Travel insurance companies haven’t yet developed a standard “solution” to missed two-ticket connections. QuoteWright, a leading online travel insurance agency, confirmed as much.

Typically, travel insurance policies cover missed connections under either “interruption” or “delay.” But policies differ in their definitions and limitations on which “perils” apply. Some policies kick in only if the delay extends more than a set period, anywhere from a few hours to as much as 12 hours.

Some bundled-package policies include a separate “missed connection” benefit, but that benefit is, at best, problematic in the case of a missed two-airline connection. Many of those policies specifically limit the missed connection benefit to missed cruise departures. And dollar limits can be as low as $250. According to QuoteWright, insurance companies adopted special missed connection coverage as a way to limit liability under the broader interruption or delay coverages.

Policies that do cover airline-to-airline connections limit application to connections that adhere to the minimum “legal connection times,” an obviously meaningless concept in two-ticket connections.

All in all, as far as I can tell, missed airline-to-airline connection coverage is a coverage that the insurance industry has largely missed.

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Defending Yourself

When one-ticket travel doesn’t work, you can protect yourself, at least some of the time:

  • Never book separate-ticket connections with less than a three-hour connecting time. Two-ticket trips can require reclaiming and rechecking your baggage, at a minimum. At worst, you may also have to exit and re-enter security at different terminal buildings.
  • Buy insurance, but buy a policy that (1) has a broad coverage of interruption, delay, or missed connections, and (2) provides a benefit high enough to pay for a replacement ticket and possibly an overnight stay at your connecting airport.
  • Even though you may look at insurance options and prices through an online agency, before you buy, speak with an agent—or exchange emails with an agent—who can confirm that the insurance provides coverage for your specific itinerary.

Clearly, the added risks are sufficiently great that you shouldn’t buy a two-ticket itinerary unless the cost difference between that and a through-ticket itinerary is excessive, or unless you just can’t buy a single-ticket trip. And if you have to buy two tickets, pad your schedule accordingly.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2010. It has been updated to reflect the most up to date information.

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 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.

Airport Holiday Travel

The 10 Most Disrupted Flight Routes Over the Christmas Travel Period

The Christmas travel season is upon us. While perhaps not as narrow and intense as the Thanksgiving holiday, Christmas is nevertheless an extremely busy time of year at airports across the country. In addition to an influx of travelers, late December is infamous for throwing weather curveballs that can further snarl already maxed-out airline operations.

AirHelp has compiled a list of the most disrupted routes this holiday season, based on data from last year. You’ll immediately notice a theme here, which can be summed up simply as “the Northeast.”

  1. New York LaGuardia Airport (LGA) to Toronto Lester B. Pearson International Airport (YYZ)
  2. Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) to Toronto Lester B. Pearson International Airport (YYZ)
  3. Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) to Toronto Billy Bishop City Airport (YTZ)
  4. Boston Edward L. Logan International Airport (BOS) to Orlando International Airport (MCO)
  5. Boston Edward L. Logan International Airport (BOS) to Toronto Lester B. Pearson International Airport (YYZ)
  6. Portland International Airport (PDX) to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)
  7. Indianapolis International Airport (IND) to Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD)
  8. Kahului Airport (OGG) to Honolulu International Airport (HNL)
  9. Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) to Toronto Lester B. Pearson International Airport (YYZ)
  10. New York LaGuardia Airport (LGA) to Montreal Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (YUL)

[st_content_ad]Six of the top 10 most disrupted routes involve either New York or Boston, and oddly enough include several flights into Toronto. New York’s three airports are routinely among the most delayed airports in the nation, owing to the heavy traffic into and out of the city. The same is true of Chicago, which also makes multiple appearances on the list.

Last year, AirHelp says 83,000 flights were disrupted during the Christmas travel period (December 21 through January 2), affecting 7.9 million passengers.

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Most Popular Routes for Christmas Travel

Fortunately, there’s little overlap between the worst routes and the most popular, according to AirHelp.

The most popular routes involve a lot of West Coast cities, namely San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas. Again, the data is based on last year.

  1. San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
  2. Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
  3. New York John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
  4. Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to New York John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)
  5. New York LaGuardia Airport (LGA) to Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD)
  6. Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) to New York LaGuardia Airport (LGA)
  7. Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS)
  8. Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS) to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
  9. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) to Portland International Airport (PDX)
  10. Portland International Airport (PDX) to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)

Readers, are you flying this holiday season? Have you experienced any nightmare travel scenarios in Christmases past? Share your stories below.

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Airport In-Flight Experience

What It’s Like to Travel for 24 Hours Straight

Do you have what it takes to mentally endure a long-haul? Read on for what it’s like to travel for over 24 hours straight, complete with tips and tricks to help you survive on a packed plane for over a day.

My 24-Hour Travel Journey

This is what it was like to travel for 24 hours-plus in packed economy class to get from Boston to Malaysian Borneo.

Hours 1 – 2: I arrive at the airport in the morning for my first flight. This is my first of three flights to get to Borneo and I’m only going from Logan to JFK. I have spent the past week preparing for this trip, so I’m excited it’s finally here and I can stop stressing about whether I’ve packed everything I need. This flight is only 45 minutes, a breeze for me; this is the easiest part of the journey. I do feel a little out of place with my carry-on backpack, as this is more of a commuter flight.

Hours 3 – 5: I am now on my layover for two hours waiting to board my second flight to Incheon, South Korea. This next flight should be about 15 hours. The Norwegian Air flight at the gate across from me is delayed almost five hours, so there’s a lot of unhappy fliers to watch. Also, the Emirates flight arriving at JFK is all over the news for being quarantined—I wonder if I’ll see Vanilla Ice.

Hours 5 – 7: I am flying on Korean Air on my first double-decker plane. The boarding process is well-organized and super easy; why can’t all flights be like this? I kind of feel like I’ve gone back to the Golden Age of Air Travel;  there’s a massive grand staircase separating the two levels, and even economy seems luxurious. I score an empty middle seat in my row. Almost one hour in, we get our meals. I ordered a vegetarian meal ahead of time and I’m happy to know what I’m eating, tofu and Udon noodles with a glass of red wine. This isn’t so bad.

Hours 7 – 10: Movie time. I watch not one, but three movies to kill some time. There’s a huge selection of British, American, and Korean movies.

Hours 10-12: I manage to doze off here and there. Almost half way done with this flight.

Hours 12-15: I take a natural sleeping pill so I can get some more sleep. Having a hard time getting comfortable. I can’t believe there are still five more hours.

Hours 16-18: Boredom and exhaustion are setting in. I don’t know how much longer I can do this. I have definitely reached my mental breaking point for one flight. Don’t think I’ll be attempting the world’s longest flight (which is four hours longer than this) anytime soon.

Hour 19: Finally we land, but we’re late due to altering the flight path because of weather. I already had a tight connection, so this is going to be tough.

Hour 19-20: As I’m getting off the plane, my connecting flight is already boarding. I need to sprint through the Incheon airport to make my final flight to Kota Kinabalu. Unless I commit and run the entire way, I won’t make it. Incheon is a great airport for international transfers, so I’m able to easily switch terminals without going through customs or a long security line. After transferring terminals, I need to check in at the gate, which couldn’t be farther away. I am dripping sweat and out of breath—and am almost ready to give up—when I see the line for my flight. I finish my mini-marathon and check in for my flight just in time. At least I didn’t have to wait any longer on a layover … trying to stay positive.

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Hours 20-24: Why is this flight full? I’m on an Asian budget airline and it’s super uncomfortable but am so far beyond tired I am able to pass out.

Hour 24: I have landed in Borneo. It is now the following day around 11 p.m. so I can’t wait to fall asleep in a bed and wake up refreshed. Thankfully, I have an airport transfer to the hotel pre-arranged and it’s only about 20 minutes away. I never want to get on a plane again, but eventually I have to get home. The silver lining is that I have 12 days to explore all Borneo has to offer before I have to worry about that.

How to Survive a 24-Hour Travel Day

#1: Plan your flight path. When looking at different flight options to Borneo I chose to arrive late at night so I could get a full night’s rest and be ready to start my group tour the next day. I also left my origin airport at a normal time so I could somewhat replicate my normal daily routine on my flight.

#2: Research your airline. Not all foreign airlines are created equal. Korean Air was clean, efficient, and the flight attendants spoke English and were friendly.

#3: Pick your transfer airport wisely. Incheon has a whole website dedicated to airport transfers, an airport lounge, and a hotel if you do happen to get stuck there. I was able to view the process on YouTube ahead of time so I could quickly go through the transfer process, which ultimately was the reason I made my final flight. I also recommend purchasing a day pass to an airport lounge if you have a long layover or a layover at an airport with few amenities.

#4: Have a glass of wine. One glass won’t dehydrate you too much, and it can help you fall asleep and relax.

#5: Find some source of a sleep aid and stick to a routine. There’s no easy way to fall asleep in economy class. I travel with melatonin, but herbal tea, and other sleep-aids will do. It’s helpful if you can trick your body into adjusting its circadian rhythms by following your normal sleep routine.

#6: Comfort is key. Wear layers that are comfortable and moisture-wicking so you can adjust to different temperatures.

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#7: Drink water. Korean Air provided bottled water, which made it easy to stay hydrated. Bring your own bottle and ask the flight attendants to fill it up for you.

#8: Research your inflight amenity kit or make your own. I recommend a blanket, neck pillow, socks, facial mist, toothbrush and toothpaste, hair brush, snacks, eye mask, wipes, essential oils, over-the-counter medicines, deodorant, lip balm, and a light sweater, outer layer, or scarf.

#9: Order special meals ahead of time. There’s nothing worse than airplane food’s mystery meat. Since I wasn’t super familiar with Korean cuisine and knew the inflight meals were my only option, I was happy I ordered a vegetarian meal. You also get your meal before everyone else so you don’t have to wait to be served if you want to fall asleep.

#10: Pick your seat or ask to move. Long hauls are rarely fully booked, so when you’re selecting your seat, choose wisely. I like to pick a window seat in a row where someone has already selected the aisle. This way you have a better chance at an empty middle seat in your row. Korean Air also showed where babies were seated on the seat map, so you could avoid sitting near one if that’s important to you.

#11: Arrange an airport pickup. Trust me, you will thank yourself later. Having one less thing to think about when you’re exhausted and getting off the plane is worth more than the money you’d save on figuring out public transportation at your destination.

#12: Pack your own headphones and backup entertainment. I didn’t think it was possible, but there’s only so many movies you can watch. Also, the headphones they give you on flights are super uncomfortable after one re-run of Friends.

#13: It’s ok if you smell. You’ve been in the same clothes for over 24 hours, there’s not much you can do.

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#14: Talk a walk and stretch. Not only is this a healthy thing to do on any flight, but it can be dangerous to your health if you don’t get up during a long-haul. Wear compression socks as an extra precaution to prevent blood clots.

#15: Be polite to the flight attendants. This is a given, but they’ve had to work for 24 hours straight, so be nice and they’ll be nice to you.

More from SmarterTravel:

Ashley Rossi is always ready for her next trip. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for travel tips, destination ideas, and off the beaten path spots.

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.”

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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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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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Airport Booking Strategy

The 10 Worst Airports for Spring Travel

Springtime means a return to travel. Which means a return of flyers to the nation’s airports. Which means a spike in airport congestion, overcrowded flights, and flight delays.

Working around the predictable unpleasantness requires knowing where it will occur.

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A just-released study, RewardExpert’s 2018 Spring Air Travel Forecast, attempts to precisely predict this spring’s airport pain points, down to the date and airport.

The worst dates to fly, by month, are:

  • March – Thursday, March 1; Monday, March 12; Tuesday, March 13
  • April – Tuesday, April 3; Saturday, April 7
  • May – Saturday, May 19; Tuesday, May 22

Of course, even on the worst days, not all airports will perform equally poorly. Based on on-time performance during the three-month period over the past five years, these are the 10 airports expected to have the worst records:

  • Newark Liberty Airport, NJ – Average on-time performance: 76.8%
  • Houston Hobby, TX – Average on-time performance: 77.0%
  • Dallas Love Field, TX – Average on-time performance: 77.6%
  • San Francisco, CA – Average on-time performance: 77.8%
  • New York LaGuardia, NY – Average on-time performance: 78.1%
  • Chicago O’Hare, IL – Average on-time performance: 78.3%
  • Chicago Midway, IL – Average on-time performance: 78.3%
  • Ft. Lauderdale, FL – Average on-time performance: 78.5%
  • New York JFK, NY – Average on-time performance: 79.0%
  • Dallas/Ft. Worth, TX – Average on-time performance: 79.3%

[st_content_ad]So, spring into travel, but do so selectively.

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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.


Airport Health & Wellness Travel Etiquette

Can United’s New Procedure Fix the Boarding Crunch?

United Airlines is testing a new boarding procedure that it hopes will provide a better customer experience, with less crowding and more efficient boarding. According to the company’s website:

We’re dedicated to providing convenience and comfort throughout your journey with United and are always looking for ways to improve your overall experience. Our customers have told us they want a better experience when boarding, so we’re working to improve the process by testing a new boarding method at various airports across our network.

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So what is the new boarding process?

As always, passengers will be assigned to five different groups, depending on their seat location, ticket type, frequent-flyer status, and so on. But instead of the current five boarding lanes, the new scheme uses only two lanes.

Group 1 and Group 2 passengers will board first, through Lane 1 and Lane 2. When they’re onboard, the remaining groups will be boarded, in order, through Lane 2. Lane 1 will be left open, to accommodate late arrivals from Groups 1 and 2.

The trick here is keeping passengers seated until their group numbers are called, thereby reducing the congestion that inevitably chokes off the entrance to the jetway. If United can successfully encourage or enforce that behavior, the result should be a calmer, less stressful boarding experience. Problem: solved.

On the other hand, it seems to be human nature to want to be first in line, and it’s easy to imagine members of Groups 3 through 5 ignoring gate agents’ requests to remain seated and loitering at the entrance to Lane 2, long before they’ve been called to board. Problem: unsolved.

Reader Reality Check

Does this seem like a tenable solution, or not?

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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.


Airport Booking Strategy Travel Technology

Google Flights Now Predicts Delays and Warns of Bag Fees

Google Flights, the airfare search tool from everyone’s favorite omniscient internet entity, has received two significant upgrades, both of which could prove popular with travelers and irk some airlines.

The service will begin predicting delays before they are announced, and will note bag fees to better mark Basic Economy fares from American, Delta, and United, Google announced in a blog post. “It can be confusing to understand whether important options— like overhead bin space, ability to select your seat, and baggage fees— are included in the fare,” Google says. Users will now see those restrictions while browsing fares.

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Google will also begin predicting delays before they are announced by airlines.  This feature will give the head’s up on the day of your flight, so you can “prevent surprises” at the airport.

“Using historic flight status data, our machine learning algorithms can predict some delays even when this information isn’t available from airlines yet,” Google says. Google only flags delays when the feature is at least 80 percent confident in the prediction.

Sound familiar? Google Flights already displays announced delays and shows historical delay data when searching for airfares, but these new delay predictions are a separate feature.

While the predictive delays tool is certainly helpful, travelers might value the addition of Basic Economy restrictions to the fare search result. Search tools have long needed to adapt to the changing airfare landscape. Flagging Basic Economy fares and outlining the restrictions that come with them means travelers can now more accurately compare price options.

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Readers, do you use Google Flights? If not, what is your preferred flight comparison tool?

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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?

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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.