Check out these 10 tips for avoiding air travel disruptions and selecting the right flights for your family’s next trip.
When family vacations involve traveling by air, picking the right flights is key. If you’re planning to take to the skies this year, it’s even more important to take care when selecting flights for your trip. Airlines are currently operating fewer flights than in past years, particularly to smaller U.S. cities and international destinations. The reduced number of available planes and staff shortages have been causing flight delays and cancellations. Severe weather has been disrupting air travel as well.
Unfortunately for vacationers, weather-related air travel meltdowns can take place throughout the year. Flight issues are common during the winter months through early spring, when snow and hazardous weather can be a frequent occurrence. Severe storms and hurricanes can also cause flight delays and cancellations during the summer and fall. It’s important to keep the possibility of bad weather in mind when choosing your flights and plan accordingly.
Here are 10 planning tips that will help you select the best flights for your next family vacation:
Work With a Travel Advisor
Working with a top travel agent is helpful whenever you’re planning a vacation, but their assistance is even more important this year. Travel advisors can review all possible flights to your vacation destination and help choose the airlines with the best reliability and the greatest number of flight options. These flight options will provide the best chances for rebooking if flight delays or cancellations arise. Travel advisors will also research possible travel itineraries, keeping in mind specific flight on-time performance and airlines with frequent air delays. Travel advisors provide valuable assistance such as monitoring itinerary changes, helping to reschedule flights as needed, and locating overnight accommodations if cancellations or significant delays occur. Travel agents can also offer current details on health precautions and requirements needed for your flights. In today’s constantly changing environment, it can be wise to double-check with your airline and visit cdc.gov/travel for more details. The Sherpa travel restrictions area of the All-Travel.com website is another good resource for information on required travel documentation, too.
Take Direct Flights
It’s often wise to avoid flight connections if possible, particularly in this year’s travel environment. Direct flights offer shorter travel times, which can provide major advantages when traveling with children as well. If you must take multiple flights to reach your destination, make sure to allow plenty of time for connections. While airlines often consider a 40-50-minute connecting time between flights to be legal, that will provide little buffer if there’s a weather or mechanical delay. In the current environment, it can be wise to allow at least two hours for connections. This is particularly true when traveling with children, as it often takes a longer time to get from gate to gate. If you have a choice of connection cities, stay away from those prone to significant weather and traffic delays. These include a number of major airports including Newark, New York’s LaGuardia and JFK airports, Chicago, San Francisco and Denver. Whatever itinerary you choose, try to choose an airline that offers at least one flight to your destination per day as well as reciprocal agreements with other carriers.
Consider Alternative Airports
To identify the best flights for your trip, research all feasible airport options for your vacation. You may find better flight schedules and lower prices at another airport that will still work for your travel itinerary. When comparing your flight choices and costs, it’s important to take into account other relevant factors as well. Rental car rates and availability may vary significantly between airports. If you’re planning to rent a car upon arrival, check car rental rates for all options before booking your flights.
Choose the Best Time to Fly
Afternoon thunderstorms and high temperatures can cause considerable travel delays during the summer months. Morning flights are generally the best option for avoiding these issues, particularly if connections are required. Some airlines and flights currently have better on time performance, while others are showing a pattern of significant flight delays and cancellations. Before booking your flights, check the on-time arrival statistics for each of your options. Some airlines and online booking engines provide these flight statistics. The FlightStats.com and Flightaware.com websites can also be good sources of information. A good travel agent can provide valuable insights as well.
Select Flights on Larger Planes During the Summer Months
Flights on smaller aircraft can be problematic in severe weather. Heat waves and record temperatures caused significant issues for smaller planes at airports in Las Vegas and other locations this year. Some regional jet aircraft including Bombardier CRJ and Embraer planes can only operate at a maximum ground temperature of 118 degrees, while large Boeing aircraft can handle hot weather up to 130 degrees. If you’re booking flights for future summer vacations or family reunions, it’s important to keep this in mind.
Pay Attention to Airline Cancellation Policies
Many airlines are still maintaining flexible cancellation policies, but that’s not true for all airlines and every class of seats. While it’s tempting to select the best possible deal, check to make sure you can alter your plans with little to no penalty if the travel environment changes. Booking flights with airline miles can provide flexible cancellation options as well.
Purchase Travel Insurance
Make sure to purchase trip insurance to protect your vacation investment in case of unforeseen air and transportation snafus, family illness or other issues. When buying your insurance, however, it’s important to make sure your flights are wrapped into the coverage. Some travelers buy insurance directly from their vacation home rental company or cruise line and then obtain their flights separately. When a problem arises with their flights, they can find that their trip insurance only covers the cost of their rental home or cruise. Make sure you understand what is covered by the trip insurance policy you’re purchasing and read the fine print carefully. For best results, call the travel insurance company directly and ask questions over the phone to understand intricate coverage issues.
Avoid Checking Luggage
Travel with carry-on luggage only whenever it’s feasible. This will allow you to be more flexible if your flight is severely delayed, as airlines will not rebook reservations involving checked luggage if your flight has not been cancelled. If your flight is cancelled, traveling solely with carry-on luggage will also help you to avoid lost suitcase headaches that can arise if you must be rebooked on another flight. Since luggage requirements vary by airline, measure your carry-on suitcases well in advance of your trip to make sure they are the right size. If some family members tend to over-fill their luggage, measure and weigh their suitcases again before leaving for the airport.
Constantly Monitor Your Flights
Airlines have been continually altering their flight schedules this year but aren’t letting their customers know when their flight times have changed in some cases. It’s important to stay on top of your bookings to be aware of flight cancellations and modifications. Multiple iterations of changes are possible. Once you’ve booked your flights, regularly log onto your airline’s website to check your itinerary. If you’re working with a travel advisor, they will often do this for you.
Check Weather Forecasts Frequently
Weather can cause even the most carefully arranged plans to go awry sometimes. As your departure date gets closer, monitor weather conditions carefully. If it appears that a storm may affect your travel plans, check with your airline to find out what alternative options are available. These may include departing a day in advance or leaving on an earlier flight. Be proactive and don’t wait for your airline to contact you. By the time they reach out to you, many of the best flight options may already be gone. If your flight has not yet been cancelled, it’s possible that your airline may not contact you at all. It is your responsibility to decide what’s best for your specific circumstances and take the appropriate steps to get to your vacation destination on time. Make sure to sign up for your airline’s notification alerts and monitor their website so you’ll know about any changes as soon as possible.
By Nancy Schretter, Contributing Editor