It’s Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of the summer travel season….and also the time when I post my annual summer travel tips column. Enjoy your long weekend, but be sure to take a moment to reflect on why we have a Memorial Day!
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. What can I possibly be talking about? Summer travel season, of course! It’s the best because it’s summer, and it’s time to play. It’s the worst because that means the cherubs are all heading for the airport at the same time the rest of us are there, and it can challenge your patience…big time! Throw a thunderstorm or hurricane into the mix, and you’ve got an instant cauldron of madness that can push even the calmest person you know over the edge. I have personally been on the receiving end of fire-tinged vitriol from upset customers whom I am certain were otherwise perfectly reasonable. That may be why I have no hair left! Many times, we (being my employer) were at fault, and other times, there was nothing anyone could do, and the customer was just a victim of something that no one or no company could prevent. So let’s start summer with a few tips from an ex-airline guy.
Fly early – This was the advice I offered in one of my very first blog posts, and it still holds true. Fly as early as you can possibly tolerate during the summer. Airlines are very focused on getting their morning launch out of the gate on time, and you are less likely to be impacted by thunderstorms.
Pack lightly, but do pack patience – If possible, try and travel with carry ons only. I now have a 21″ TravelPro “international carry on” that I use for most trips. I’ve found it to be perfect for most of my travels. I supplement this with an Eagle Creek “Quirk” Travelpack, which I have found to carry an amazing amount of stuff and still fit underneath the seat in front of you. I managed to do three weeks in Europe with this combo, and I’ll do the same again this fall. Yes, doing laundry during the trip is a must, but it is worth it. Sticking with carry ons will offer you an enormous amount of flexibility during your summer travels. The peace of mind of having your belongings with you when the inevitable summer storms roll and accompanying “off schedule operations” is priceless.
Now, about patience. Air travel during the summer months can be a test of anyone’s patience. Be nice to the airline staff, and they are more apt to help get you out of a bind. If you are stuck waiting for a flight, don’t visit the counter every 3 minutes to ask about the flight.
Patience is good, but don’t let that stop you from being proactive – It’s always good to be informed, but especially so during the summer months. Be proactive by checking the weather along your route of flight, and across the country really. It is entirely possible for a line of thunderstorms across Florida to impact your flight from Dallas to New York. Take a minute to research possible back up plans if your flight is delayed or cancelled. Sometimes it can be helpful to have that back up plan in your pocket if you’re working with an airline agent to get rebooked. You may think of things they don’t.
If you’re flight is cancelled or delayed and you are standing in a long line of customers waiting to be rebooked, be proactive by calling the airline’s 1-800 number and working on alternative arrangements. By the time you get to the front of the line, you may already have everything worked out, and just need to pick up a new boarding pass. As a Delta flyer, I love @DeltaAssist for help with making alternative arrangements during a delay. They are awesome! If you’re on a flight with wi-fi, you can probably access your airline’s website for free. Start looking at your options before you land, and you may even find that you’ve already been taken care of for the next leg of your trip.
Consider a travel concierge – I consider myself an experienced traveler who has no problem navigating the landmines that summer travel can lay in your way. However, if you are not a routine traveler, and are taking a trip of a lifetime, or at least your very valuable annual vacation time, you might consider investing in a travel concierge to watch things for you. I have used the services of Cranky Concierge on important vacation trips before, and they are worth every penny.
Invest in a day pass to the airline lounge – If you aren’t a lounge member, or don’t carry a credit card product that grants access, the price of a day pass to the airline lounge may be worth the price of gold. Airline lounges are typically staffed with the most experienced agents who can help you get on your way sooner rather than later. If nothing else, you can at least wait for your delayed flight in comfort with access to beverages and snacks.
Be nice – Right up there with patience, is politeness. As frustrating as air travel delays can be, taking those frustrations out on airline personnel are not going to help you get home faster. And you don’t need the extra stress either.
So there’s the MJ on Travel list of summer travel tips. What would you add to the list?