Experts warn holiday travelers about crowded airports and roadways

Photo (c) Olena Ruban - Getty Images

Consumers should hit the road early and make sure their vehicles are ready for the trip

Forecasts from a variety of travel watchers suggest that travelers hoping to go somewhere this week need to be more prepared for more delays than they have in the past couple of years.  

Overall, the American Automobile Association (AAA) and Inrix state that there will be 109 million people on the road or in the skies this year. That’s 34% higher than last year, accounting for an additional 27.7 million travelers. That won’t quite get us all the way back to where we were before the pandemic, but the study said travel volume will reach 92% of 2019’s levels.

Much of that increase will come from travelers who will fly rather than drive somewhere. AAA and Inrix stated that the airline industry will see a 184% increase from last holiday season. For a full breakdown of the best times to travel by day, check out Inrix’s forecast here.

Hit the road early, but get your car checked out before you leave

With such a dramatic increase, travelers who want to stay clear of the rush should try to hit the road early. Inrix stated that some major metro areas could see three times as many delays, and AAA said it expects to respond to as many as 917,000 calls for help. 

AAA added that if a vehicle hasn’t been inspected lately, then it would be smart for travelers to have someone take a look under the hood as a safety precaution.

“Vehicles that have been driven less during the pandemic should get an inspection to check key components like the battery, fuel system, tires, brakes and fluid levels to avoid an unnecessary breakdown,” a spokesperson for AAA said. “It’s important to do this as early as possible in case there is an issue that needs to be fixed.”

COVID-19 requirements complicate travel plans

Travelers also need to be prepared for the ever-changing landscape of COVID-19 stipulations. Not only has the White House set out new requirements, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s travel requisites can also change like the wind.

“These large crowds, combined with ever-evolving Covid-related rules mean travelers should really be prepared for some turbulence as they get ready to head to the airport this year. Long check-in lines, particularly for international flights, are to be expected,” Willis Orlando, Scott’s Cheap Flights’ Senior Product Operations Specialist, told ConsumerAffairs. “Airline agents are tasked with confirming Covid-related documentation prior to checking folks in, which means that lines that used to be relatively quick are very likely to take quite a bit longer.”

Airlines may bump passengers

Ever since COVID-19 jumped into the pilot’s seat, buying an airline ticket has come with a new set of risks – one that will probably linger during the holidays. Experts say staffing shortages, overbookings, and cancellations may lead some airlines to bump passengers out of flights.

The top 5 offenders, according to tracking data provided by UpgradedPoints, are a mix of smaller airlines and regional/feeder airlines that get passengers from smaller towns to larger hubs. They include:

  1. Envoy Air (a subsidiary of American Airlines), which bumped an average of 6.88 passengers per 100,000 between the start of 2020 to September 2021. 

  2. Frontier Airlines came in second with 3.73 involuntary denied boardings. 

  3. PSA Airlines (also a subsidiary of American) followed close behind in third with 3.06 bumps per 100,000 passengers. 

  4. Horizon Air (a subsidiary of Alaska Airlines) came in at fourth, with 2.37 denied bookings per 100,000 passengers.

  5. Republic Airlines (an operator of regional flights for American, United, and Delta) rounded out the Top 5, with 2.05 denied boardings per 100,000 passengers.

“If you're traveling with Delta, JetBlue, United, or Allegiant, you can rest assured that you won't be bumped from your flight this holiday travel season,” a spokesperson for UpgradePoints told ConsumerAffairs. “These airlines were the least likely offenders on the list." 

If there’s any sort of issue, such as getting bumped from an overbooked flight,  passengers can expect longer-than-usual waits for customer service. “Our best advice is to check your flight status frequently ahead of time on the airline’s website, so that if you are faced with any schedule changes, you can get out ahead of them,” Orlando said.

“If you don’t need to check a bag, don’t. That’s just one fewer line you’ll have to deal with at the airport. And if you do find yourself needing to contact customer service, check to see if your airline offers a text message option via their mobile app. Many do, and it can be much more convenient, and less stressful, than sitting on hold.”

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