It’s one of the worst words to come across. And even worse? Cancellations.
On any given day, 20 to 25 percent of flights are delayed or canceled due to weather conditions, mechanical difficulties, and increasingly, nasty contract battles between airline management and employees, according to a University of California at Berkeley study.
Earlier this year, sequestration and FAA furloughs were to blame. But what excuse do the airlines have now that the president officially ended air traffic controller furloughs in April?
Between Sept. 13 and Sept. 30 of last year, half of all American flights arrived late. One out of five flights arrived more than 45 minutes late, and 1,000 flights, or 3 percent of all flights, were canceled, according to Flightstats.com.
For the past three weeks, American Airlines pilots have been causing extreme delays and cancellations. In early September, and pilots from Spanish-based Iberia have gone on strike for a total of 18 days so far in 2013.
Weather-related delays are unavoidable and cause enough damage as it is. John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark airports’ flight capacity drops from about 83 flights per hour to 64 to 67 flights per hour during inclement weather. As the major East Coast hub, it’s been estimated that New York’s airports cause about three quarters of all delays in the country.
Check out the tips below by The Wall Street Journal’s Scott McCartney.
If you’re already delayed:
RUN! Push the airline to rebook you. The more you paid for the flight and the higher frequent flier status you have, the higher chance of success you have at rebooking. Check other airlines flying the same route for available seats, which will save time and make it easier for the agent to rebook you.
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS. If you’re delayed overnight due to maintenance issues, the airline is responsible for providing you a hotel. Demand a hotel and a voucher to pay for it. They aren’t required to provide meals and amenities, however.
TAKE THE MONEY. American is offering refunds for flights delayed more than two hours (or one hour if you have top-level elite status) or canceled. The airline may offer extra miles and a voucher, but you don’t have to accept them. You can demand cash.
CARRY YOUR BAGS. Don’t check a bag when you know there will be disruptions. You can only insure your bags safety if you move it personally. And don’t ship your pet as checked baggage during “bad air days!”
BE KIND AND BEG. Ticket counter workers and gate agents work under immense pressure to appease stressed and angry customers. They have all kinds of power to reroute you and take care of you. If you could just channel your frustration into a polite inquiry, they may be more inclined to help you. EXTRA TIP: Pay the daily $50 for the airline club. Not only are the lines shorter, but they usually have the most accommodating and knowledgeable agents.
If You’re Worried About Your Future Flight:
SHOW UP EARLY. American is letting passengers get on other flights with the standby list. Get to the airport as early as humanly possible and try to get on an earlier flight. You won’t regret it if your original flight gets delayed.
BUY BACKUP TICKETS. This option may not be for everyone, but if you absolutely must get to your destination, buy a fully refundable ticket plus an extra. Should your flight be delayed, take the refund and use your backup ticket. If only non-refundable tickets are available, know your options. Southwest doesn’t charge a change fee for non-refundable tickets, and Virgin American and JetBlue charge $100 change fee. Other airlines’ change fees run about $150.
STAY ALERT. Sign up for flight status alerts from the airline and flight-tracking services like FlightStats.com.
If You Want to Buy a Ticket:
AVOID THE CROSSFIRE. Nasty labor battles are plaguing the airline industry. Lufthansa flight attendants staged a 24-hour strike last September, while Qantas Airways grounded its entire fleet for two days due to strikes.
PLAN FOR DELAYS. If your airline is experiencing a labor situation, and you want to stick with them due to frequent flier status, avoid booking flights with tight delays. Leave a day early if you have an event to attend, and fly as early in the day as possible. If you’re delayed, there will be more time to recover without being stranded overnight.
SEEK A STATUS MATCH: Accruing airline status isn’t easy, and neither is flying on an airline where you don’t have any. Most airlines will give temporary elite status to win over your business.
Traveling by air these days is no picnic. But even as delays amass, airlines continue to be reluctant on reducing the number of flights squeezed through airports every day. Until this changes, the passenger will undoubtedly suffer.