There is a lot of news coverage about airport delays and flight cancellations. Is the airline industry having issues, or have the media have found something new to latch on to? How bad are airport delays and flight cancellations and what can you do to avoid them? We polled some of our travellers who have recently flown.
Going to Europe? Book with an EU carrier
Current air passenger protection regulations in Canada are a bit of a joke, something that was brought home during the pandemic. And while there will be some improvement come September 8th, the new rules do little to force the airlines to stick to their schedule. Better to look to the European Union where passenger right laws offer real protection. You are entitled to compensation from the airline which can amount to hundreds of Euros, depending on when you were notified and the severity of the event.
I flew LOT Polish and found out prior to departure that my connecting flight within Europe had been cancelled. I called the airline and asked to be rebooked on Lufthansa from Toronto to my destination. It meant leaving home two hours early, a minor inconvenience that got me to my destination on time. It also netted me a few hundred Euros in compensation. And it is the risk of getting penalized that force airlines to think twice about cancelling a flight. Read more about European air passenger rights here.
Book with plenty of connection time
Gary just arrived in the Netherlands after flying from Montreal to Amsterdam via Toronto. He reports giant line-ups and plenty of delayed flights, but few cancellations. "If the flight from Pearson had left on time, I would have missed it. But it left 4 hours late".
Where in the past a two hour connection was just fine, in current conditions you would be better off allowing for a longer connection time, if nothing else just for your own peace of mind.
Gary continues: "Several people I talked to were in the same boat - they caught their connecting flight only because it was late."
If you can fly direct, do it.
Connect through smaller airports
Need to connect? Choose a smaller airport. Richard needed to connect on a flight from Toronto to Milan, Italy and he had a choice of connecting through Montreal, London Heathrow, Frankfurt or Zurich. We advised him to choose the latter as smaller airports face far less congestion. (And here is a fun website where you can monitor airport delays.)
Those of you who fly out of smaller airports through gateways like Toronto know that airlines like to schedule several flights a day between the two. Then closer to departure mysteriously one or more flights get cancelled and passengers rebooked on those actually operating. It seems airlines like to cast the net wide to capture as much interest as possible, but operate fewer flights to maximize their passenger load factor. Whether this is the actual reason or not, cancellation of feeder flights is a thing and you need to be flexible when using them.
Arrive early at the airport
In the old days checking in for your flight two hours prior to departure was enough. These days not so much as line-ups at security are long. My recent flights out of Amsterdam had me arrive at the airport 3½ hours early and it was barely enough.
Get a NEXUS card
Joan emailed me and recommends getting a NEXUS card. NEXUS is a voluntary program designed to speed up border crossings for low-risk, pre-approved travellers into Canada and the United States. NEXUS members avoid long line-ups and save time using automated self-serve kiosks at nine Canadian international airports. As an added benefit, when travelling on domestic, U.S.-bound, and select international flights, NEXUS members can be expedited through Canadian airport security screening lanes at 16 Canadian airports.
There is however a backlog in applications, so what else can you do?
Get a credit card with priority access
Joan reports: "Luckily our recent airport experiences were painless. I had NEXUS but my friend is one of the 300K in our Cdn backlog. So we found the Terminal 1 American Express Platinum "Cloud" kiosk, got a QR code, and breezed through their Priority security line (same as Nexus in fact). "
There are several credit cards offering this benefit at different annual fees - just check this article.
Fly with carry-on luggage only
Flying with just carry-on luggage will help you minimize your time in airports, both departing (as you bypass the luggage drop lines) and arriving (as you do not have to spend extra time waiting for your bag). And when you have connecting flights travelling with just carry-on baggage minimizes the risk of the airline losing your bag.
Of course if everyone uses only carry-on luggage you may have the same experience as Gary: "Both at Trudeau and Pearson, they announced that the flight was so full that they might not have enough room for all the cabin baggage that people wanted to bring aboard, and so asked for "volunteers" who would check their baggage instead. I have no idea how that worked out. I didn't notice anyone rushing to volunteer."
In other words, keep your carry-on small but do pack essentials for the first two days in it. That way, should the airline lose your bag, at least you have something to tide you over.
Arrive early in your destination
If you have a tour booked that starts moving around on day 1 or 2 of your tour, you would be wise arriving a day early. Not only gives it a buffer for any delays, it also helps you get over jetlag before the tour starts.
Travel insurance offers some benefits
I always recommend travellers purchase travel insurance. And while after the pandemic more people are protecting their travel investment, many others still don't. If you are worried about travel delays and lost luggage, you can get a policy for around $100 which covers the following:
- Unlimited Trip Interruption Coverage
- Baggage Loss, Damage & Delay
- Missed Connection
- Delayed Return
As with any insurance policy there are limitations and exclusions, so ask before you purchase. The cost of this insurance varies by age and duration of your trip.
Fly during off-peak hours
Joan says: "Our Lisbon/Pearson flight arrived 2pm, weekday and there was no one at customs! Bags were waiting - could not believe it. The rest of our group booked with the tour operator - longer, cheaper connecting flight via Frankfurt arriving 7pm. They waited three hours for customs & bags!"
Chris, who just arrived back from Europe this week, concurs: "On the way over I got to Pearson at 1:00 for the 5:00 pm flight and it was a walk through. A short lineup for the KLM check-in bag drop and straight through security. Arriving in Toronto was a breeze, again walked straight up to passport control at 1:00 in the afternoon".
Travel on an early flight
As delays pile up during the day, book yourself on a flight that departs early in the day.
Travel in off-season
I had one client emailing me this week saying she was going to postpone her trip because "travel is so insane right now". However, what we are seeing is a temporary blip on the radar. They are caused by increased numbers of passengers due to the post-COVID surge in demand, along with shortages of airline, security and immigration personnel, during high season. Travel in low season, fall, winter and spring, as the vast majority of adventure travellers does, and you will find travel to be a joyful experience.
Pick adventurous destinations
Airport delays are where the crowds go and that is generally not where adventurous travellers find themselves. Jason emailed from the airport in Santiago, Chile on Wednesday: "So far on this trip, I’ve flown Detroit - La Guardia -São Paulo - Montevideo, and so far today, Montevideo - Santiago. I’ve had zero issues."
Book now, tours are filling up and prices are rising
With an increased demand for travel, a reduced roster of flights and surging oil prices comes a rise in airline tickets. The sooner you book your trip and lock in your airfare, the better off you are. It also reduces the risk of finding tours are sold out because other travellers beat you to the punch.