The kickoff of the summer travel season is still a month away, but with all we’ve seen this year already – Southwest’s computer glitch, American pilots voting to strike, and airlines pulling out of markets – anyone flying this summer should be ready for things to go haywire.
There will probably be the usual weather-related cancellations and delays, but Scott Keyes of Going.com says that the domino that’s in the most precarious position is that Delta, United, JetBlue, and American have gotten the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) approval allowing them to cut back on flights.
Travelers might think there’s a lot that could go wrong given the FAA’s okay, but these preemptive cuts are meant to result in fewer disruptions and less last-minute scrambling down the line.
“On the other hand, travel demand is at its highest all year, meaning the system is more strained. During the summer, there are comparatively fewer airplanes on reserve—they’re all out flying—so when flights get canceled, there are fewer back-ups to take their place,” Keyes explained to ConsumerAffairs.
The impacts and the options – both good and bad
While this runway of cutbacks may be paved with good intentions, Keyes said that the worst part of this flight cancellation circus is that while it means fewer flights, it could also mean higher fares.
“However, there are a few groups of travelers that these cancellations do bode well for. First, people who have already booked their flights into or out of New York. You’ve already locked in a lower price than the people who have yet to book and are now seeing fares spike. Plus your flight is now more likely to arrive on time.
Keyes said the second group of travelers who are in luck are people whose flights get canceled. It’s frustrating enough anytime a flight is canceled, but in this situation, there are several silver linings, especially when they’re canceled this far in advance.
Request a full cash refund: “If the new flight does not work for you, you have the right to get your money back,” Keyes said.
Accept the airline’s new booking: If an airline cancels a flight, the airline will probably rebook the flier on a new flight automatically. And if that new flight works for the traveler’s schedule, all’s good!
Request a different flight: Keyes told ConsumerAffairs that if an airline rebooks someone on a new flight that doesn’t work with the traveler’s plans, they can request a different flight at no additional charge.
“This can work in your favor if your original flight was a less-than-ideal itinerary—say it left super in the morning or you had a long layover. You can switch to an optimal itinerary, like one that leaves a little later or is a direct flight,” he said.
A reason to love New York
For those in New York: Keyes says that for people flying in or out of New York City – the U.S.’ largest market with four regional airports in the mix – these cuts are not ideal, but his researchers found a somewhat under-the-radar group of travelers that benefits from those NYC-area flight cancellations.
“Take JetBlue, for instance. When JetBlue cuts flights for the summer, those pilots, planes, and crews get reallocated to other JetBlue flights around the country, meaning that there is added capacity in other JetBlue destinations and lower fares in those cities than you would’ve otherwise seen,” Keyes said. “So if you’re flying into or out of Fort Lauderdale, you may see more flights and lower fares thanks to these New York cuts.”
“The knee-jerk reaction to a canceled flight is to be frustrated, and we definitely get why. Upon closer inspection, canceled flights this summer can actually open up your options, whether you’re looking to reclaim some money, book a better flight, or take advantage of airline deals from other airports around the country,” Keyes concluded.