The last big travel day before the holidays – Labor Day ‘23 – is about to arrive.
And whether you’ve traveled earlier this summer and think you’ve got a handle on all that could be thrown at you – or this is your first trip in some time – you better be prepared because there’ll be a good number of potential stumbling blocks in your path.
You won’t be the only one traveling
Yes, it would be nice to have the sky and the road to yourself, but no such luck. More than 57% -- which is over 148 million American adults -- intend to travel for Labor Day or Labor Day weekend this year. That's 4.07% more than last year, according to TheVacationer.
Long TSA lines and the ripple of headaches they’ll bring
The U.S. Travel Association tells ConsumerAffairs that aging technology and a lack of TSA agents have caused the air travel system to become inefficient. That means long lines, agents who might be new to the job, and heaven forbid, more missed flights.
How long will it take to get through a TSA checkpoint? Planetware’s latest report says it depends on where you are departing. For example, both Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway, George Bush International in Houston, Washington, D.C.’s Dulles, San Francisco International, and Tampa International could be at a snail’s pace, somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes.
One quick note about Chicago Midway: Planetware says that Midway has reported more flight delays (22.6%) and cancellations (5.7%) than any other major airport in the U.S. since 2014.
Friday and Monday might not be much fun
Travel app Hopper’s lead economist Hayley Berg told ConsumerAffairs that the busiest days to travel will be Friday for departures – with 3.7 million travelers expected to depart from U.S airports – and Monday for return flights – with 3.6 million expected to depart from U.S airports.
If you want better odds, The Vacationer’s Eric Jones says that you should fly out the Tuesday or Wednesday before Labor Day and fly home the Wednesday, Thursday, or Saturday after.
The busiest airports? Here are Berg’s best estimates:
Busiest airports and times:
Atlanta (ATL) - Estimated Seats Departing: 1,541,254 passengers; Busiest Times: Morning (8 am - 12 pm)
Denver (DEN) - Estimated Seats Departing: 1,024,839 passengers; Busiest Times: Morning (8 am - 12 pm)
Dallas Fort-Worth (DFW) - Estimated Seats Departing: 983,089 passengers; Busiest Times: Evening (4 pm - 8 pm)
Los Angeles (LAX) - Estimated Seats Departing: 927,031 passengers; Busiest Times: Morning (8 am - 12 pm)
Chicago (ORD) - Estimated Seats Departing: 816,943 passengers; Busiest Times: Evening (4 pm - 8 pm)
Maybe even cancel your reservation and fly another airline
Price4Limo shared some interesting information with ConsumerAffairs that it culled from travel data at the Bureau of Transportation Statistics – data that shows the best places to fly and the best airlines to take if having fewer hassles is one of your goals.
The company’s analysts point to Hawaiian Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and Alaska Airlines as the best airlines to fly because those three have the lowest percentage of departure delays. On the other hand, the analysts' interpretation of the data shows that JetBlue Airways, Allegiant Air, and Frontier Airlines are the worst airlines to fly.
Does that mean you should cancel your flight if you’re on, say, JetBlue? Maybe.
"Canceling a flight can be stressful, especially when concerns about losing money are involved,” Maddie Weirman, part of the creative team at Price4Limo, told ConsumerAffairs.
“In alignment with our recent study, we’ve observed a significant uptick in online searches, with a 19% increase in inquiries about ‘canceling a flight and getting a refund’ over the past year.," Weirman said. "Additionally, searches for ‘compensation for flight delays’ have surged by a remarkable 79%."
Thinking about pulling the plug on your existing reservation? One word of caution: it's not a cakewalk. But if you do, Weirman offers these factors that could influence the difficulty of canceling a flight and obtaining a refund:
Complex policies: "Airlines have a variety of ticket types, each with its own cancellation policies and fees. Understanding these policies can be confusing, leading to difficulties in determining if you can cancel your reservation without losing money," Weirman said.
Non-refundable tickets: Many travelers purchase non-refundable tickets because they are cheaper -- and you may have done the same. Just remember -- those discounted tickets can come with strict cancellation rules and some awfully hefty charges if you do decide to change them.
Time sensitivity: To protect themselves, airlines usually have specific timeframes within which you can cancel and receive a full refund. Miss that window and you could be paying more than you want or more than it's worth changing the flight.
Reason for cancellation: "The reason for your cancellation can also impact the difficulty of obtaining a refund," Weirman said. "Airlines are more likely to offer flexibility and refunds for cancellations due to factors beyond your control, such as illness or severe weather disruptions."