Flying in the height of summer travel season is often a headache in and of itself, but 2019 has brought travel problems with the potential to develop into full-blown migraines.
My picks for this summer’s biggest air travel pain points:
1. 737 MAX aircraft grounding
Sometimes it feels as if this situation will drag on forever. Just a few days ago, American Airlines announced it is extending its 737 MAX 8 aircraft cancelations until Sept. 3, which pretty much takes us through the entire summer since Labor Day is Sept. 2. Bottom line: American will cancel about 115 flights per day.
Why you may not be immune: If you think you’ll escape this mess because you aren’t scheduled to fly on a 737 Max jet, guess again. Your flight could still be canceled as the airline juggles planes to meet their stated goal to “minimize the impact to the smallest number of customers.”
How to cope: If your flight is canceled, the airline will contact you and offer alternative flights at different times or perhaps even different days; if this doesn’t work, American will give you a full refund.
Flying Southwest or American this summer? Check reservations for new Max 8 cancellations
2. Disappearing discount carriers
In recent years, a number of European-based discount carriers that offered flights to and from the U.S. have gone out of business, stranding passengers in transit. The pain didn’t necessarily end when their customers finally got home, either: They struggled to get reimbursed and when they went book their next transatlantic flight, they have found higher fares. Airlines ceasing operations in recent years include Iceland’s Wow Air (March 2019), British Midland Regional (February 2019), Germania (February 2019), Primera Air (2018) and Air Berlin (2017).
Why you might not be immune: Sometimes, discount-airline customers learn the hard way that reliability is one of the comforts you give up when you fly ultra-low cost carriers. A woman I know was scheduled to fly Air Berlin right around the time it went out of business. But she canceled her flights and rebooked with another carrier after hearing the drumbeat of bankruptcy stories grow louder by the week. Good thing, too, because Air Berlin ghosted it customers right in the middle of her trip. Ultimately, she got a refund for the Air Berlin tickets but this does not always happen.
How to cope: If you have any concerns about your carrier, see what you can learn about it before you book. Then check the airline’s refund policy. If you hear stories about your airline being in deep financial trouble close to your departure date, you may want to consider rebooking with another carrier. You may lose a few hundred dollars but you’d probably lose it anyway if you got stranded overseas and had to find overnight lodging and alternate transportation home.
3. High fares and long lines
Why you might not be immune: This is a seasonal headache; the high fares of peak-summer travel along with long lines at attractions and airports.
How to cope: Luckily, there are things you can do to lower prices and shorten wait times.
Join PreCheck: For U.S. travelers, this means zipping through airport security checkpoints via dedicated PreCheck lanes (and you get to keep your shoes on). Membership is $85 for five years. Learn more on the TSA website.
Lower fares: If you must fly during this peak season, try less popular days, which tend to be cheaper. For example, a Tuesday-Saturday trip is often significantly less expensive than flying Friday-Monday.
Fewer crowds: Can you travel in late August or September? That’s when demand drops and fares will be even cheaper, but even better, the major tourist attractions will have smaller crowds and shorter lines.
Finally, always compare the price of any plane tickets at your favorite airfare comparison site. If you only visit your favorite airline’s site, you may be passing up bargains you never dreamed existed.
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