Buckle up, it’s likely to be a bumpy ride.
There are roughly 2.7 million travelers expected to fly July 4 weekend, according to travel app Hopper. If the past few weeks are any indication, it’s not going to go smoothly for many.
Last weekend, airlines canceled 1,500 flights. On Monday alone, it was 800. And it’s not likely to improve for a while. Many airlines cut 30% of their workforce during the pandemic — for Delta, that’s around 30,000 people — and are struggling to hire them back. Plus there’s an existing pilot shortage that’s only gotten worse.
The TSA is also struggling with staffing, and airport infrastructure is buckling. At JFK, the baggage loading carousels went kaput recently. What staff there are might get sick with COVID, and schedules are tighter than ever since fleets were slimmed down.
Still, it is possible to make it to your final destination. Read on for smart strategies that can help keep your travel plans on track — or at least ensure you’re more VIP than SOL (that’s s – – t out of luck) when things go wrong.
Be your own baggage detective
Carry-on’s best — it’s summer, so pack light if you can. But if you do have to check bags, stash an Air Tag ($29 at Apple.com) or other tracking device inside your suitcase so you can track it in case it goes astray, said Jesse Neugarten of deal-tracking site Dollar Flight Club. “If you have them, this weekend is the time to put one in each bag,” he told The Post.
And if you paid for a trip with a credit card, you’ve likely scored free travel insurance, too, which could cover everything from replacing what’s missing from your lost luggage, to an unexpected hotel stay. Contact your issuer in advance of the trip and ask for details of what you can expect via email. That way, you’ll know how much you can spend in an emergency without fretting.
It’s a rookie error to rely solely on an airline’s app for arrival and departure info. Download a third-party tracker like Flighty or FlightAware, to eyeball your flight. Where’s the aircraft you’re due to board right now? Is it delayed — and has the domino effect been noted on your departure yet? The airlines are likely to hedge their bets to keep you in the dark and prevent proactive calls, Flighty founder Ryan Jones told The Post. His app has the same info, but has an incentive to be quick, and clear. “Our motivation is as much information as possible, as fast as possible,” he said.
Another tip: join every airline’s frequent flier program. Doing so is free, and in the rare occasion a flight’s overbooked, and gate agents start denying boarding, it’ll act as a safety net. “They have specific hierarchies they use to determine who gets bumped,” said Scott Keyes of Scott’s Cheap Flights. Top of the heap: business class and top tier frequent fliers. Scraping the bottom: anyone without a loyalty number in their reservation.
Prepare for the worst
Even if you prep like a pro, things could still go wrong at the airport. When delays start emerging, look around your gate: if it’s packed with people, the airline’s likely to want to find a way for a full flight to take off and instead cancel a quieter one, Flighty’s Jones said. Prestige routes and their full first-class cabins — think New York to London — get top priority.
If they do cancel your flight, acting quickly and decisively is key. That’s another reason to avoid checking a bag: It’s much easier to reroute yourself without waiting for offloading. “It can be a stampede when flights and seats are so limited, so you don’t want any escape plan taken up by other people,” he said.
Call Europe for help
Once it’s clear the flight’s been nixed, call customer service quickly — but skip the US-based lines, likely jammed by other folks whose July 4 trip has been spiked. Overseas, this is just another summer weekend: try the UK, Canada or Australia for English-speaking agents. Other options: Delta has a hotline for those traveling within the next 48 hours
(1-855-548-2505), and try Twitter, where many airlines offer the speediest customer service.
Once you’re through, the magic word to drop is “interlining.” Say something like “Is there an interlining option we could try?” Airlines often have formal agreements so they’ll re-accommodate each other’s passengers if crisis hits. In other words, that Delta seat magically becomes an American one, at no cost to you. Airlines will always opt first to offer the next available seat on their own planes, of course, so make sure to prompt whoever’s helping you. Note, though, that budget carriers like newbie Breeze don’t have the same agreements, so it’s only an option on the major names. “It’s the single biggest reason to fly full-service airlines,” said Keyes. “When something goes wrong on a budget carrier, it can go really wrong.”
Know your rights
And if it does, Keyes said to remember your Department of Transportation-ensured rights: when a flight’s canceled, you can opt for a refund of the unused portion in the original form of payment. “If it’s two days until you can fly again, and you’re just going for a long weekend trip, that’s not very enticing. You do not have to accept a voucher, even if it’s the only thing the airlines tell you about. Politely call up and demand a full refund,” Keyes said.
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