Summer flying tips for in-the-know travelers

Summertime is a busy travel period, especially with schools on break and folks wanting to take advantage of the long days and sunshine. Busy airports and hot weather can also cause travel headaches, though, especially this year with the early heat wave paired with pent-up demand. The reality is things can happen no matter when you travel. But during the summer peak, it’s especially important to be proactive and flexible when making your plans. Here are some of our top tips for navigating air travel during the summer season.

Hot temperatures are hard on airplanes. As temperatures heat up, air density lowers. This means a jet engine must work harder for combustion and propulsion. In order to take off during an extreme heat wave, airlines sometimes have to make tough choices such as bumping passengers to reduce weight, removing bags, delaying the flight until temperatures drop, or canceling it outright. Safety comes first, but sometimes the only safe choices are less than ideal.

Fly direct when possible. If you have the option to avoid a layover, take advantage of it. This way if any issues do arise due to bumping of passengers or a late departure, at least you won’t be stuck waiting for a connecting flight. The days of airlines holding the plane for you are mostly over unless you’re with a large group. While mainline carriers will try to get you on another flight due to a missed connection, it could mean a long wait if the next flight is already oversold. Even if flying direct is more expensive, the extra hassle, time, and risk of a layover usually isn’t worth it.

Early flights are less risky. While getting to the airport before dawn may not sound overly appealing, the first flight of the day is more likely to be on time. Especially during summer, the weather is usually calmer and cooler in the morning, and you’re more likely to get going before airports start to back up. The plane will also oftentimes have arrived the night before, so if there were any issues with the inbound flight you’re more likely to know about it before leaving home. As a bonus, you’ll arrive at your destination earlier, allowing time on your first day to get out and explore. If you must have a layover, build in 2-3 hours as a buffer.

Choose your airport wisely. If flying direct isn’t an option, consider which airport you’ll connect through. For example, in the wintertime it might be a safer bet to go through Dallas-Fort Worth instead of Denver. During summer when it takes more fuel and runway to takeoff in hot temperatures, Phoenix, Dallas, or Atlanta might be ones to avoid if you can. Another factor to consider is runway length. Recall that airplanes require more runway to takeoff during a heat wave; Chicago Midway’s runway is one of the shortest at just 6,522 feet. Washington, DC National is just over 7,000 feet. Compare this to New York JFK where the longest runway is 14,511 feet.

Know your airline. We recommend avoiding ultra low-cost carriers (ULCCs) such as Spirit and Frontier, because flight times are often sporadic, and they don’t have interline agreements in place with other carriers. This means that if you experience a delay or cancellation during a heat wave, you might be stuck finding your own way home on another (expensive) last-minute ticket. The U.S. Department of Transportation maintains an Air Travel Consumer Report that tracks airline performance such as delays, lost bags, and customer complaints. The “Big 4” – American, Delta, Southwest, and United are usually pretty similar in performance.

Take advantage of technology. When flying, it’s helpful to download your airline’s app and link your reservation to it before leaving home. This way, any flight delays, cancellations, or gate changes will show up directly on your phone. You can also oftentimes track your bags directly from the app. If an issue does occur, it’s especially helpful to view and select alternative flights from your phone, many times without having to wait in line for an airline ticketing agent.

Know your rights. Air travelers have several rights that specifically address procedures for denying boarding on oversold flights, as well as compensation for delays/cancellations. You can view them here. Each airline has their own policies as well, oftentimes with some flexibility built in. If you experience an issue, politely and clearly communicate with the airline what you expect. Treat employees the way you’d like to be treated; it can go in your favor toward getting the outcome you want.

Navigating air travel can be stressful, particularly during the peak summer period. While you can’t avoid all mishaps, being proactive in your planning can make a big difference. And remember, if an issue does occur, being calm, communicative, and flexible are the keys to getting your vacation back on track.

About Denise

My goal is to simplify travel-planning through an equal exchange process where I acquire your ideas and expectations for your trip relieving you of the worry, hassle, stress and time that accompanies Do-It-Yourself planning.

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