This summer, air travel was both a blessing and a nightmare for millions.
After two years of feeling isolated and trapped away from the rest of the world, people were eager to hit the skies again. But staffing issues and an unexpected surge led to headaches at airports the world over.
Things are getting better, but they still aren't at pre-pandemic convenience and comfort. Here's information that can help you avoid the worst snarls at the airport and have the smoothest travel experience possible.
Airports That Cancel
First under the microscope: airports with high cancellation records. After all, you can't enjoy a flight that doesn't get off the ground.
AirHelp, an air passenger's rights company, crunched the numbers to look at which airports were the worst at cancelling flights. The top worst US airports for cancellations (based on percent of flights canceled) include:
- LGA – New York LaGuardia Airport – 7.7%
- EWR – Newark Liberty International Airport – 7.6%
- DCA – Washington Ronald Reagan National Airport – 5.9%
- PIT – Pittsburgh International Airport – 4.1%
- BOS – Boston Edward L Logan International Airport – 4%
- CLT – Charlotte – 3.8%
- PHL – Philadelphia International Airport – 3.8%
- CLE – Cleveland Hopkins International Airport – 3.7%
- MIA – Miami International Airport – 3.7%
- JFK – New York J F Kennedy International Airport – 3.6%
They also found that flights between 4PM and 9:59PM were more likely to be canceled, and Friday flights had the highest rates of cancellation. Tuesday was your best chance to miss a cancellation, in case you're wondering - with Monday close behind.
A Passenger's Rights
One aspect of flying that many struggle with is the lack of overall control.
Most people drive in their personal lives or walk - placing them squarely in control of their own locomotion. Riding the bus feels a little like handing over control, but being 30,000 feet in the air? You're completely at the mercy of the pilot and crew.
Passengers also have almost no control over whether flights are on time, how long they have to wait, whether or not they're canceled and what kind of people they're surrounded by on board.
The good news is - passengers do have some rights.
Some of the most important rights you'll want to know to exercise if it ever arises include, per AirHelp:
- Replacement flights: If your flight is canceled or your previous flight is responsible for your missed connecting flight, in most cases the airline is responsible for finding you an alternate flight to your destination.
- Food, drink and access to communication: After a few hours of delays, the airline should provide these or pay for you to access them yourself.
- Accommodations overnight: For overnight delays, the airline should provide accommodations that include transportation to and from the destination.
- In the United States, the US Department of Transportation Aviation Consumer Protection covers your rights to rerouting (your ticket is valid for another flight, following overbooking), up to $1,350 per person for denied boardings due to overbooking, and claims of up to $3,800 for luggage problems.
Unfortunately, the United States is one of the worst for consumer protection, but international flyers may find that they have access to a number of additional rights when the airline is at fault.
Tips for the Ride Itself
Of course, once you've got it all figured out and you're finally on the plane, it can still be an uncomfortable experience.
Popping ears, cramped seats, noisy passengers - here are some tips for making the ride a little more comfortable:
- Earplugs: Yes, really. It's a common sense solution for an aggravating problem. You can't make that baby 3 rows up stop screaming because her ears hurt, but you can help your ears.
- A travel pillow: If you're flying on a budget, chances are good that your seats aren't particularly spacious. Aside from booking multiple seats, the best thing you can do is support your body through the use of thoughtfully placed pillows. Some airlines will provide them if you ask, but even if they have them on board they may be limited to call ahead and check.
- Make sure your devices are charged and you have books or videos downloaded so you don't have to rely on spotty internet service.
- Don't be afraid to talk to your doctor. Some people need anxiety medication to get through air travel - there's nothing wrong with that. Talk to your doctor about trying the medication on a normal day before you're on the plane so you can be aware of how it affects you. If it makes you sleep, make sure the attendants know that you may be slow to respond.
- Deep breaths: You may not be in control of the plane, but you can lower your heart level and blood pressure by finding a way to relax and focus on something you enjoy instead of the stress of flying.
- Chewing gum: Chewing gum can help prevent your ears from popping painfully on descents and ascents as the cabin pressure changes. This is especially important for children, but if they're too young for gum any snack you can buy once in the terminal can suffice. For babies, nursing or providing a bottle during these pressure changes can help avoid those painful ears.
- Book planes with more space when possible. If it's in your budget, you can never go wrong going with the airline that offers more spacious seating - after all, rubbing elbows with strangers isn't fun for almost anyone.
The good news is that things are getting better. Luggage losses are slowing down, flight cancellations aren't happening at the staggering rate they were earlier this summer, and flight surges are cooling.
So if you've been holding off on that summer travel but want to hit the air before cold weather returns, now is as good of a time as any. Be aware of the rights you have, plan cautiously - and then go have fun.