Air travel is getting harder: Here’s how to make flying more enjoyable

by Jun 29, 2022Planning

Air travel is getting harder showing crowded airplane with passengers in seats

Air travel is getting harder. Long delays, canceled flights, lost or delayed luggage, and horror stories of packed planes, plus stressed-out passengers and flight crews. Here are a few tips to make flying more enjoyable or at least tolerable.

Air travel was always stressful enough, but lately it has become almost miserable – a penance that must be endured to arrive at the hoped-for paradise of a blissful holiday escape. Flights are delayed and canceled daily at previously unheard-of levels, leaving thousands of travelers scrambling to get to a destination or to simply get home.

We’ve experienced an uptick in stress, too, with short-tempered and overworked flight attendants (we completely empathize with them!), obnoxious and irritable passengers, and packed flights on every route. We both love to travel; however, lately, the flying part is something we could both do without … if we could. The fact remains, though, that flying is necessary to get to the places we often want to see. So, we have a few tips and guidelines to help us — and to help you — make flying more enjoyable.

Air travel is getting harder. Tips to make flying more enjoyable

If you can, book your flight during off-peak times. If you must fly during major holiday periods — such as July 4, Memorial Day, Thanksgiving or Christmas — book your flights with plenty of layover times between connections (think three hours) and always book with room to spare in your schedule. Need to arrive on Monday? Then plan to arrive at least by Sunday instead, just in case a flight is canceled, or a connection missed. If your prompt arrival is really essential, consider an extra day in case you do get stuck en route. Therese hoped a couple she met on a plane recently made their cruise departure in Lisbon: They were scheduled to arrive that morning! That would have been too tight for us.

Book the earliest flights out as these are the ones that are most likely to depart on time. Indeed, morning flights do not get canceled as often statistically. Yes, we know this means having to get up really early to make that 5:30 or 6 a.m. flight, but that’s far better than arriving comfortably at noon only to learn your flight is now canceled or delayed due to crew shortages, weather, or any number of other reasons. And that could mean a stressful transfer or simply a missed connection, leaving you stranded in an intermediate airport – know your air traveler rights. The earlier flights also mean you have all day to look for alternative flights if needed.

Make flying more enjoyable woman in a crowded airport

Try to avoid storms. Well, thanks, Sherlock, you are perhaps saying with an eye roll. But storms, especially in the summer, typically build in intensity later in the day. Which means if you follow the above “book early” tip, you may have a better chance of avoiding getting stranded. A severe thunderstorm can shut down an airport, and there is nothing anyone can do except wait – no compensation here. Therese once sat in the Dallas airport with a group of folks all flying onward to southern Texas to teach at a workshop – her plane was the last one that snuck in before the airport was shut down by lightning and thunder. And she sat, and sat, and sat – until the small group of fellow teachers she rendezvoused with rented a van and drove through the night to arrive as scheduled. Also, in the winter, it may be best if possible to avoid certain airports known for stormy shutdowns, such as Chicago or Washington, D.C.

Understand that airlines are short on staff in all areas, from pilots and flight attendants to ground crews and airport staff. The pandemic continues to have an impact as there are no longer enough staff to meet the increased demand on airlines to fly more routes and more planes. Indeed, many major airlines in 2022 started to cancel complete routes and leave certain cities because of staffing problems. Recently, we were both on a flight that arrived on time but could not park at a gate because there wasn’t any ground crew available. So, we sat,… which delayed the plane, meaning some folks on the plane missed their connections (another reason to ensure you have a longer layover for your connecting flights). One delay will snowball into more delays and even cancelations as the day progresses.

Flight Attendant Airbus Flying Is Hard

Flight crews are restricted on the number of hours they can fly. Meaning if a flight is delayed long enough, the flight crew scheduled to fly the plane may get “timed out” and pulled off its shift due to FAA safety regulations – particularly common for longer international flights. Without excess crew that can spring into action, it’s nearly impossible to bring in a new set. We once sat in the Denver airport awaiting the departure of our connecting flight to Munich for four hours. There was a real risk the flight would be canceled since the crew was close to exceeding its 16-hour limit and there was no other crew to replace it. Fortunately, the mechanical was fixed with a scant 15-minutes to spare, and we took off rather than having to spend a night in Denver. As it was, almost everyone on the plane with connecting flights in Munich missed them. We spent the night in Munich — on United Airline’s dime, thank you — and were just as happy to arrive a day later since we had buffer in travel plans. Others, though, were not so lucky, with several in danger of even missing their cruise departures.


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Denver Airport Empty

On our long wait in Denver, the airport slowly turned into a ghost town by midnight and after.

Book directly with the airline and use the airline’s app to get your boarding pass, check on your luggage, track incoming flights, as well as access flight information such as delay and boarding alerts, and much more. Why book directly with the airline? If there are issues with your flight or your ticket, a third party such as Hotwire, Kayak, Expedia, Priceline, Orbitz, etc. may have saved you money, but you may not be able to reach agents for help — and the airline puts such bookings at the end of their line of importance.

If you can, travel with only carry-on luggage. Your life will be much easier, and if a flight is delayed or canceled, you won’t have to worry about checked luggage getting delayed mishandled, or even lost. Indeed, with carry-on only, you are much nimbler when it comes to rebooking and changing flight plans quickly. We have both been on delayed or canceled flights when we were able to be quickly rebooked on another flight departing shortly simply because we were carry-on only. The airline in this case must not worry about tracking or transfer checked luggage – which is often simply impossible these days anyway. Remember, though, if you do travel carry-on only, this is not a license to bring a bag so stuffed full you need a crowbar just to leverage it into an overhead bin. Traveling light means packing lighter and sticking to airline carry-on luggage size requirements.

Take along some good-for-you snacks. Therese, the snack queen, always has a protein bar, apple or nuts in her carry-on to help ward off hunger – especially if you get stuck in a plane or at an airport (You don’t want to see Therese nearing the “hangry” state). The last thing you want is to have to brave an overcrowded airport restaurant or an over-priced airport shop scrounging for chips or candy bars to satisfy a grumbling tummy. Our delay in Denver mentioned above was so late that nothing was open, and the airport was eerily empty (see photo above). Also, pack a reusable or even collapsible water bottle you can fill up once you get through security. Many airports now have stations to fill bottles.

Pack all the patience and flexibility you can muster. Travel, right now, is not for the short-of-patience or faint of heart. Flights, hotels, and rental cars are overbooked, and staffing everywhere is also in short supply. Everywhere you go, you will encounter other travelers and likely airline, hotel, and car rental staff whose tensions and anxieties are at the breaking point. If you can hold onto patience in the face of chaos, your travels will go a whole lot smoother. Offer a smile, a kind word, and show empathy for the employee’s stress, too. It may not solve the problem but will help everybody feel better about it — and you never know what kind turn being nice will bring.

Arrive at the airport at least two hours before your flight departs. Labor shortages are affecting TSA, meaning security lines can become very long — and they get worse as the day progresses (yet another reason to choose an earlier flight). Even TSA PreCheck has lost some of its time-saving luster in some of the busier airports. We both now have a CLEAR membership, which is worth its weight in gold for relatively frequent travelers. Members get personally screened and whisked to the front of the security line every time – quite luxurious!

Travel stress at airport trying to make flying more enjoyable

Other miscellaneous tips: Don’t forget your “travel comfort” items like neck pillows and such. Comfortable clothes and walkable shoes are important for those times you may have to stand around or sit a lot. A light wrap, scarf or sweater can come in handy on sometimes chilly planes. Be sure to pack necessary medications with you. Don’t forget your hand sanitizer. And layovers or delays could mean a phone losing its charge so do not forget a charging cable.

Finally, you are – excuse our directness – a fool if you don’t purchase travel insurance or know you are fully covered by travel insurance from a travel credit card. Even with all the layover buffer time and personal flexibility in your plan, sometimes things just go sideways. And while the airline staff will want to do everything to make sure you get to a cruise or other tour departure on time, sometimes that just is not possible. Hotels are booked and rental cars may also be charged to you even if you don’t show. If you have travel insurance you can at least feel better knowing you’re not out thousands of dollars in addition to your dream trip when that ship or tour bus leaves without you while you are stuck in an airport.

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