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Five ways to survive air travel this summer

Passengers wait in front of a display board at Zurich airport, in Zurich, Wednesday, June 15, 2022. Switzerland’s air traffic controller says Swiss airspace has been reopened after a brief closure for safety reasons due to an unspecified “technical malfunction.” Skyguide, the air navigation service, initially said the closure Wednesday would be in effect “until further notice” after the malfunction early in the morning. (Ennio Leanza/Keystone via AP)

Air travel has become a participation sport. The days of enjoying air travel are long gone. We now need to survive it, and there are five steps we can take to improve our chances during the chaotic summer of 2022. 
The first step starts at home as we pack. Not only do we need to make sure we have identification attached to the outside of our luggage, but it is also recommended to place a copy of your itinerary inside your bag just before you close it. This way if all tags are torn off during the baggage transfer process, the airlines have a way to identify and find the passenger. This increases the chances that the bag will be reunited with the passenger during the trip rather than sent home during the early stages of a vacation. 
The second step is an obvious one, but the emails regularly landing in my inbox demand it be addressed. Arrive at the airport – as in walking through the doors of the airport – a minimum of two hours before departure. Airlines are not the only ones suffering from labor shortages. We are seeing security checkpoints around the country short-staffed as well. Fewer screeners means fewer lanes open and a slower screening process. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has a team of 1,000 screeners that can be dispatched to airports suffering from a lack of employees to help speed up the security process, but there is only so much they can do. 
It is always amusing to consider that many people will think nothing of standing in the hot summer sun waiting in line for hours for a three-minute roller coaster ride but will go kicking and screaming to the airport when it is recommended that they arrive two hours or more before scheduled departure. Given the large number of reasons for a delay, arriving at the airport doorway two hours before your scheduled departure is a necessary item to pack.   
The third item is to track your flight. Using Flight Aware’s free website, you can provide your outbound airline and flight number information to get the latest about your scheduled departure. At the top of the display, a “Track Inbound Flight” link is provided that can track your incoming aircraft. 
If you know your flight to Atlanta has a 44-minute connection and the flight is running 70 minutes behind, you can approach the first airline representative you find to see what options might be available. Knowing this before others means you are not forced to stand at the end of a slow-moving line.   
But if you ever find yourself at the end of that line, always remember to use the social media tools at your disposal. Where most people will call the airlines to experience a multi-hour hold, you can use a Twitter account or even a Facebook private message to see what options might be available to you. Simply provide your six-digit confirmation number (we call it a record locator) and briefly explain the situation and see what can be done. 
The fourth way we can prepare ourselves is through homework. Specifically, predeparture homework that deals with options. 
The sports saying “know what you are going to do with the ball before you get it” can be applied to traveling during chaotic times. 
Before I leave for the airport, I have checked to see how many flights to my destination are scheduled after my flight. This way if my flight is cancelled, I can ask about being placed on specific flights. Likewise, I see which flights were scheduled before me in case the departure board shows an earlier flight that is now delayed. When traveling with no checked luggage, a delayed flight can many times be the best option to take.   
It is also important to know which alternate airports I can consider if the flight is cancelled to the destination city. Any agent working on it is trying to find a seat to my destination city, and if I can provide three or four nearby airports as possible options, it could save my vacation. Even if I am forced to rent a car from one airport to another, it might be an option worth considering if (important point) I can secure a rental car between the two points. 
Finally, our fifth point is to know how to complain if there is a problem with your trip. If the airline representative seems indifferent, simply offer that you never like to file an online complaint with the Department of Transportation (DOT) (insert airline agent’s name here), but you will if needed. 
If there is no response by the airline directly, a quick visit to will lead to an airline complaint site that will allow the complaint to be registered. Once done, the DOT will contact the airline to ask what is being done and how quickly it will take place. If more passengers routed their complaints through the DOT, a better measurement of customer service could be provided. 
Even if we prepare ourselves for every eventuality, there is always a chance things will still go south, and, if so, please remember to be extra kind to the airline agent you speak with. Far too often these frontline workers bear the brunt of flyer frustration. They hold your travel in their hands. So, be patient and thankful, and it will go a long way toward making what promises to be a historically chaotic summer travel season a little less brutal.

Jay Ratliff spent over 20 years in management with Northwest/Republic Airlines, including as aviation general manager. He is an IHeart aviation analyst.

Tags air travel air travel airlines airplanes Transportation Security Administration

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