Airline passengers are starting to look like Hurricane Katrina survivors and that is not good. Unfortunately, both groups waited too long to get out and were willing to wait for the government to save them.
If the water is rising, find a boat. But, where are the boats? That is a question that needs to be asked before the water reaches your neck. The same is true at the airport. If delays are rising, find a way out.
You can no longer afford to go to the airport without an alternate plan in case weather, or an event, or lack of crews starts creating delays and cancellations. If your Boeing 757 gets cancelled and 250 passengers have to scramble to find new seats, you are going to quickly discover why airlines have become profitable again. They are called RJ jets or regional jets.
These 50 seat planes are cheap to run and very efficient for the airlines to fly and are usually full. If your final destination is served by mostly RJ’s, you may spend days trying to find an open seat.
That means you sleep and eat at some big airport for most of your planned trip. The airport becomes your Louisiana Superdome. You’re stuck. You will have to wait until the airlines and the system can work you in. You are boat-less in a sea of grumpy people.
Is there a better way?
The answer is a five part yes.
- Don’t fly during the last week of the month. That’s when pilots and cabin crews start to reach their maximum duty time. Your airplane may be at the gate and ready to go but there may not be any crew available to fly it. The result? Cancelled flight. Plan your trips earlier in the month to avoid that one.
- Fly early. Problems stack up during the day so if a mess is in the works, it will be a huge mess later in the day. After all, would you rather be standing half sleepy in the security line at 0 dark 30 or grumpy in a line at eight at night?
- Be prepared to leave the airport by means other than a plane. The rental car companies will hate me, but go ahead and make a car reservation at every airport you will visit. That way, if things go south, you will have a car reserved and ready to go. When the airport is in chaos, you do not want to be in the next long line to try and rent a car.
- Make backup reservations. Make an Amtrak reservation before you go to the airport. No, you don’t have to ride Amtrak all of the way to your destination, but if the delays are limited to your departure airport, you may have better luck at the airport 100-200 miles down the road. Plus, it is nice to sit in the observation car watching the small towns go by while you arrange a new itinerary on your cell phone.
And that reminds me, get one of those cell phone booster battery packs that run on AA batteries. You may need your phone and not have any juice at a critical time. Available electrical outlets to charge and use your phone will soon disappear once problems develop and passengers scramble to find available power outlets. The folks at Black and Decker are building a little gizmo that does the trick for about an hour and can also power a computer. I saw one at Wal-Mart. Better yet, don’t use your cell on flying days so you will have a full charge when you need it. Visit when you get to where you want to go.
Identify people who are going to the same destination as you. You are identifying relief drivers for your rental car. While other folks may be delay-footage for the next day newscast, you and your relief drivers just might be where you need to be,
Make hotel reservations at each of your airports you will visit. Don’t guarantee them, so that if you don’t need them, they will expire at 6:00pm.
- Be ready to go home. If the mess starts at your home airport, go home and fight again another day.
Make a list of all of the backup reservations you have made and cancel all of them when you get to your destination. If you flew early in the morning, you will have plenty of time to do that.
Buy some earplugs and take them along. You don’t have to listen to all of that griping from other people if you don’t want to. Also take a couple of energy bars. If you get them through security, they will come in very handy when you’re hungry.
Until the FAA gets a better system in place, such as satellite tracking GPS, the number of planes will be limited. There is only so much capability right now and the controller workforce is working at about maximum capacity.
And for you folks that think the sun rises and sets on your schedule, don’t be shortsighted enough to take out your rage on the flight crew. You don’t have any idea what the front end of the plane is like on delay days and the last thing you want a pilot to think about is the comments of a rude passenger rather than the safety of the plane. Delays are not the flight crew’s fault.
Wait until you get home and write your senator, the airport administrator, the FAA, the airline, and the Federal Trade Commission. We need properly applied pressure to build a better system. We don’t need flight crews to make a fatal mistake.
Enjoy your trip!