A person who has been in the cabin for 20 years says that things have never been as stressful as they are now. Here are her tips for avoiding airline chaos this summer from 30,000 feet.
Twenty years ago, when I was at a major turning point in my life, I sent out applications to every airline. A few months later, I was hired as a flight attendant. I loved my new job, and it gave me a whole new life that was fun and interesting.
But I didn’t sign up to see what summer travel is like.
More than any other event in my career, the pandemic has changed the way I fly. 9/11 changed how we get on planes and get into airports. Covid-19 changed what it’s like to be on an airplane. It put everyone on edge and caused stress. It brought politics into a place where politics shouldn’t be.
When the pandemic first started, airlines tried to save as much money as they could. They let a lot of people retire early and gave many of them unpaid time off. On top of that, a lot of people quit to be with their families. Now, there aren’t enough people to work. After the mask rule was lifted, the number of passengers started to rise faster than airlines could handle. We have too much work and not enough people to do it. Not only pilots and flight attendants, but also the people who work on the ground. Ground crews may not be something you think about, but without them, there would be no one to park the planes, drive the jet bridges so you can get on and off, load and unload your bags, or scan your boarding pass.
Flight crews have limits on how long they can work at once, usually between 12 and 16 hours. This is not something that most people know. We can’t fly longer than that because it’s dangerous and against the law. If your flight crew is late and hits that time, it doesn’t matter if you have to be somewhere, we are done when we are done. There aren’t many backup crews right now because of how things are, so your flight may be canceled.
Summer has always been a hard time to fly in the past, but this summer is much worse. Every week, thousands of flights have been canceled or delayed, and there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight. I’ve seen a lot of people miss important things like weddings, funerals, cruises, and even international flights. The tears are real and have real causes, and as a flight attendant, I can’t do anything to help.
Traveling is good for your spirit. It gives us energy and helps us get back on track. Sometimes you need to feel the sand between your toes, smell fresh pine trees, or hear the sounds of a new city to remind yourself that you are still alive. But the key to a good summer trip is to plan ahead. Plan ahead and be ready for your trip to make it as stress-free as possible. Here’s what I’ve learned from working at 30,000 feet for 20 years.
You should leave the day before a cruise. Think of it as part of your trip. Stay in a hotel and get to know a new city. Enjoy yourself with a nice meal and a glass of wine. Slowly wake up, have some coffee and pancakes, and then head to your boat at your own pace. The peace of mind is worth the extra money. I worked on a flight that was late the other day. The only flight of the day to Rome was missed by a family of eight trying to get to Rome. They were going on a cruise, but they won’t be able to go now. (It’s also not a bad idea to buy travel insurance.)
Fly direct every time.
So, if you get stuck in traffic, you don’t have to worry about missing your next flight. If you can’t avoid connecting flights, don’t book the shortest layover because you’ll be more likely to miss your flight and feel more stressed. No longer is a one-hour layover enough. Don’t even think about it. Most of the time, three hours is fine.
As early in the day as you can, try to fly.
Usually, the first flights of the day don’t get canceled. As the day gets warmer, thunderstorms get worse, flight crews reach their duty limits, and airports get more crowded. Yes, that might mean getting up at 3 a.m., but if your early flight gets canceled, you’ll have more choices for a new flight.
Download the airline’s app before you fly.
The information in these apps is very helpful. You won’t have to wait in lines that are too long or try to call someone when something goes wrong. You can track your bag, your incoming plane, and sometimes you will know a flight is canceled before the flight crew does. The app can also help you change your flight plans if you need to.
Don’t jump at the cheapest tickets.
The planes are full. If you buy the cheapest seats, your family might not be able to sit together. When you buy your ticket, it tells you so. Flight attendants won’t rearrange the whole plane just so you can sit together because you tried to save money on a third-party website. Also, keep in mind that if a flight is oversold and no one offers to give up their seat, the family who used a bargain website to save a few dollars will be the first to be kicked off.