The airline industry is experiencing an unprecedented level of dysfunction all over the world. It’s the perfect storm of dropped Covid restrictions, increased interest in travel, and airlines and airports still working with pandemic levels of resources. Flight delays and cancellations are becoming rampant, and while it’s always a good idea to insure yourself against such issues, in 2022 it is especially essential.
Why is this happening?
Despite receiving massive government bailouts during the pandemic, companies like airlines trimmed their staff down to match the decrease in consumer demand. And while the world is finally peeking its head out from under quarantine and Covid travel restrictions, airlines have yet to catch up. This has caused all-out chaos as flights that were offered and in some cases, even booked to capacity, have had to be cancelled because they don’t have enough crew to fly.
One of the biggest hurdles to fixing this issue is that a lot of the people involved in ensuring you take off and land safely, like pilots, require very long training periods. And evidently, airline staff that were laid off and found other ways to make a living during the pandemic prefer that other work. In response to these subpar working conditions, some of the existing staff at airports and airlines in Europe have gone on strike, demanding higher wages and more hiring because they’re so overworked. While American workers also “strike” by posting shit on Facebook, when Europeans strike, they can shut down air travel for weeks.
The result is travelers spending an entire vacation without their luggage because the airport simply has no luggage handlers. It’s people finding out with a week’s notice that their flight is cancelled, or worse, getting to the airport and waiting through three or four delays to find out the flight is cancelled. Some travelers have even reported that their return flight has been cancelled in the middle of their trip.
The worst part of it is that according to Boeing, air travel is not expected to recover to 2019 capacity until late 2023 or early 2024. So unless you want to avoid travel for another two years, you’ll have to navigate the situation as it is.
What can you do to protect yourself from flight delays and cancellations?
1. Don’t fly!
Though this is may finally be the hot girl summer that we’ve been waiting for since 2020, perhaps you’re better off packing the car or taking a train to your vacation. This is especially true if you’re traveling within Europe and ground distances wouldn’t be so prohibitive. This is not the time to book four $10 Ryanair flights across the continent. Plan with ground transportation in mind. If you’ve already booked flights, the best thing you can do is pray to your favorite God that these flight delays and cancellations don’t affect you.
2. Don’t book flights through third parties.
I really can’t stress this enough under any circumstance at all, but especially now. When an airline makes a change to your flight itinerary, you’re automatically notified by the airline, and you can choose to accept the new itinerary or refuse the change and ask for a refund. When you book through a third party, they are the ones notified of any change and any communication will have to go through them. If they’re really terrible, this means you may never even find out there’s been a flight change. If you need to rebook or cancel, the airline will do nothing to help, and most third-party websites have horrible customer service. They’re also the ones that receive your refund from the airline, so you may be waiting months for Expedia to pass it on to you. So eat the $50 it’ll cost you to book directly through the airline.
Remember, air travelers have pretty amazing passenger rights, but when you’re not booking an airline but a travel agency, your rights to timely compensation are not quite as secured.
3. Avoid checking luggage.
Now is a good time to learn to pack light. A lot of airlines allow you to pay for extra carry-on allowance. They pretty much don’t care where you stick your bag as long as you’re paying for it. So opt to carry on, even if the convenience of checking a bag is alluring. You definitely don’t want to all your clothes, shoes, and toiletries to spend your vacation in a baggage hall at Heathrow Airport.
4. Book accommodations with free cancellation.
Most decent hotels offer free cancellation, and in many cases, you can get a full refund even if you cancel the day before your stay. This is one of the easiest ways to secure yourself against flight delays and cancellations because you don’t have to file a claim or wait for a refund. These hotels are used to people cancelling all the time, so if your vacation is ruined at the last minute, they’re not going to put up a fight and it will be one less headache for you to worry about.
5. Don’t pre-pay car rentals in advance.
Another travel issue that has sprung out of this air travel clusterfuck is that people are arriving a day or two late to pick up a car and finding their pre-paid reservation was cancelled as a no-show and they need to pay out of pocket again to rent a car. I’ve even heard of this happening to people who only showed up a few hours after their reservation time.
6. Get travel insurance.
Travel insurance covers trip delays, cancellations, compensation for lost or delayed luggage, and even other issues like illness or accidents. Depending on the level of coverage you choose and where you’re traveling to, trip insurance doesn’t necessarily have to add much to the cost of your trip. But it does add a lot of peace of mind. If you want to save yourself the cost of insurance altogether, talk to your credit card companies and find out what, if anything, is covered by their insurance.
7. Don’t plan anything important the first day or two of your trip.
If you’re heading out on a cruise, for instance, you may want to give yourself a day or two of buffer time in case your inbound flight is cancelled. You don’t want to miss your cruise, wedding, music festival, or other important event because American Airlines has no pilots. Even if you normally prefer to hit the ground running as soon as your flight arrives and take a cross-country train to another city or have some exciting excursion awaiting you, you may be better off booking some down time in the destination airport city just in case.
8. Budget for the unexpected.
While travel insurance is good in a pinch and can reimburse you for lost trip costs, you’ll still have to pay up front for anything that goes amiss. For example, if you have an overnight delay and you need to stay at a hotel, or for extra meals if your vacation was unexpectedly lengthened. So maybe avoid a long trip if having to shell out an extra $200 will prevent you from paying rent.
9. Know your rights
In the United States, airlines are required by the Department of Transportation to give a refund for a changed flight if the alternative doesn’t work for you. They may fight you on this, but airlines don’t want a formal complaint to the DOT (which will cost them a hefty punitive fee) so remind them of that!
In Europe, passenger rights are even better (probably because of all the proper strikes), and you’re eligible for €600 in compensation if your flight to or from Europe arrives with more than four hours’ delay or is cancelled. European airlines are also required to pay for hotels and meals in the event of an overnight stay even if the cancellation is not the airline’s fault but due to weather or some other uncontrollable factor.
10. Hope for the best
If you’ve done everything possible to protect yourself from flight delays and cancellations, then you’re better off putting it all out of your mind and hoping for the best. It is a vacation, after all. What good is it if you’re going to be dreading a potential problem the entire time? Even if your European vacation turns into an unexpected staycation, you have something to look forward to.