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Air travel this summer is volatile — here's how to hedge your bets

Air travel feels out of control lately, as if buying a plane ticket is a risky deal. Here are some ways to smooth out what can be a hectic transit.
Air travel this summer is volatile — here's how to hedge your bets
Posted at 9:29 PM, Jun 28, 2023

Travelers seeing the news of delays and cancellations are hoping they won't experience the stress of hours- or days-long delays themselves.

For months, stretching back to the last holiday season in December, travelers have experienced extreme travel interruptions at airports around the U.S., which appear to be getting more common. 

William J. McGee, a senior fellow for Aviation and Travel at the American Economic Liberties Project, told NPR in December, after a horrific travel experience for many holiday travelers, "I've never seen a meltdown of this size, it's the worst I think we've ever seen."

Fast forward to this week, where yet another meltdown happened as thousands of U.S. flights were delayed for hours or ultimately canceled. Newark Airport in New Jersey was an epicenter of chaos as United Airlines canceled most of its flights for at least five days in a row. 

It's almost unbelievable to many travelers that these kinds of delays and cancellations are even possible, because most probably haven't seen these types of delays before.

Actor Alec Baldwin said he was delayed for a routine flight for over 7 hours on Tuesday. 

Here are some tips that might help the masses mitigate some of that risk when it comes to making a deal with any U.S. airline after buying a plane ticket. 

Insurance helps you hedge your bets

Buying travel insurance is not like splurging for more leg room. Even a short flight could end up turning into hours stranded at an airport with unpredictable travel problems. 

The price of an insurance premium can depend on a number of factors, including the number of travelers, the amount of coverage or how many legs of the trip are covered. Often, the coverage you're offered when purchasing tickets is enough to cover travel delays and cancellations. 

Travel delay insurance will cover the part of your trip that delayed you in getting to your destination, or back to your origin. Trip interruption insurance will cover the parts of your trip you never were able to go on. 

Many credit cards have travel insurance benefits, including for lost or delayed luggage, without having to buy an additional policy. 

Check with your credit card company, or use recommended cards with travel insurance benefits, and be sure to know if you need to book your travel with that card to receive the benefits the company offers. 

SEE MORE: Scripps News reporter books train after days of flight cancellations

Be diligent about doing your research, and go over all scenarios

Travel stress can be greatly reduced by doing your homework and preparation well in advance of your trip. Just like with packing, going over all of the possible scenarios for travel issues, for each leg of your trip, will help you mentally map out preparations for the unpredictable world of air travel. 

Consider arriving a little earlier to the airport than even the airline recommends. You don't have to arrive too early, but remember, there are usually plenty of climate controlled areas of airports with food and drink options to relax in once you're there. 

It's better to be at the airport and waiting for a bit after the security check, than to be rushing to the gate. 

You can think ahead about your luggage. This year, there are updated guides online to help travelers prepare for how the airline is going to receive the luggage you're planning on bringing

Each airline has different rules. One tip is to print out guidance and fold it up in your bag so that if there are any issues, you have the rules there with your boarding pass, and you'll be able to refer back to them.

Research the airports you're traveling through as well. Often, maps will tell you how far of a distance you'll have to walk to make connections.

Try to avoid short layovers

Airlines are constantly trying to find ways to maximize their time, which can eat into your time. 

Travel experts recommend purchasing direct flights. If you must book a trip with a connecting flight, it's better, if possible, to try and get a layover that is more than 2 hours. 

Consider that the shorter the layover, the more risk there is that delays might cause you to miss your connection. 

Many of these scenarios depend heavily on your personal situation. If you have a tight schedule, you could find yourself spending more money on your airfare to get that longer connection time, or that direct flight, or the security of knowing you're able to avoid a budget carrier. 

Preparation, preparation, preparation

If you're not an experienced traveler, you might pretend you're in travel college and do your homework online and by reading travel forums to learn travel hacks and tips. 

If you are an experienced traveler, do some reflection on the trips you've taken to remember what went wrong and how you could have improved those scenarios.

It might help to have your credit cards, bank cards, and cash all lined up and ready, or to be ready to adjust your plans and find a hotel if you're delayed. Many airlines try and avoid booking accommodation for stranded travelers, and airline staff can become overwhelmed quickly. This is where that travel insurance will come in handy. 

If you know you don't have the budget for a last minute hotel near the airport in the case of a cancellation or delay, a travel insurance policy premium may very well be much cheaper and will reimburse you to pay that portion of your credit card bill if you do have to make last minute bookings to keep from sleeping in an airport. 

Pick your place on the plane wisely, and maximize your comfort

A comfortable flight isn't just about bringing a nice travel pillow. Many airlines are trying to make extra money, and sometimes comfort will cost you. Consider this:

You may want to see out the window as you land, but if you have a short flight or a short layover, you might decide to reserve an aisle seat that is towards the front of the plane. 

This could make it faster to grab your luggage and deplane quickly. That will give you more time, and less stress, when rushing to make a short connecting flight. 

Alternatively, if you find yourself on a long international flight with a long layover, you might consider not sitting in the front of the plane — if you're not flying in a higher class than economy. 

Often times your fellow passengers will be trying to sit towards the front of the plane, while the lower priced seats in the back remain largely empty on some flights. 

If you don't have to deplane quickly, and you're going to be on a longer flight, you might get lucky, without any extra expense, and not be crowded towards the front with a bunch of chatty seat mates.

Sometimes being in the back of the plane can offer an extra layer of peace, if you know you don't have to deplane quickly. 

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