The Biggest Summer Travel Headaches and How to Avoid Them

Wondering how to avoid the most common summer travel headaches? From late night flight delays to airport overcrowding, and everything in between, here are our top tips for avoiding the most common summer travel headaches.

Hot weather brings out the worst in people and pets as they attempt to get outside and enjoy the sun. With temperatures hitting the 90s, some people are now realizing that it is too hot for pets to be outside. They are also finding that their pet fur is causing havoc on their clothing, and even worse on their skin.

In addition to sunscreen and sunscreen masks, patience is also a must during the summer holidays. The travel ecosphere is not ready for large crowds, although they will come.

As Memorial Day approaches, it’s clear that travelers are ready, while travel agencies and major organizations like the TSA need to catch up. Not only are rental cars hard to come by, but wheelchair users, security personnel and other airport and hotel staff are scarce.

Many of the airport’s restaurants will remain closed at least until mid-summer. Hotels will continue to make many cuts, from closed lounges to no water glasses in the bathroom.

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Scott McCartney explores the ups and downs of air travel.

Airlines say the number of calls is increasing, as are wait times. It’s a three-strike count: Some customers are calling to redeem vouchers and flight credits issued for flights canceled due to the pandemic, while others have questions about masks, mandatory Covid 19 testing and border restrictions. And booking centers are understaffed due to staff reductions. Airlines are hiring like crazy.

There is an extra level of difficulty. We spend more time with customers when they call, said Julie Rath, vice president of customer service and reservations at American Airlines.

Gardner Morris of Venice, Florida, found another sore spot: He was one of many mobility-impaired passengers who got stuck in the check-in area of the Phoenix airport over the mid-May weekend. He and his 80-year-old partner, who uses a wheelchair, boarded the flight, but the gate agent told him that many of them had not arrived. When they arrived in Tampa, Florida, the same thing happened. Mr. Morris ended up having to push a wheelchair from the door to the curb.

I’m 88 years old, and it was hard to drive up the driveway, he says.

Airports and airlines – in most cases the airlines are responsible for wheelchair service – say they are aware of the lack of wheelchair users and are pushing for more staff and apologizing for service problems.

Here are some pitfalls for summer tourists and some tips for dealing with them.

Safety shield

The line at the Atlanta TSA checkpoint in April may be a harbinger of what awaits us this summer. TSA still needs to hire about 4,000 screening officers nationwide.

Photo:

Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg News

In February, the Transportation Security Administration said it would need to hire 6,000 control officers for airport checkpoints, about 15% of its regular staff. So far, 2,200 people have been hired. According to the TSA, 1,000 people are still on hold, but will all be processed by the 30th. September will be fully operational again. This means that at certain times, some airports do not have enough control officers to avoid long lines.

The agency offers a $500 bonus upon hire and $500 per job for one year.

A TSA spokesman noted that it should have been running at full capacity when the agency was screening 2.5 million passengers a day. Lately, it’s been about 1.7 million a day. But the agency estimates that number could rise to 2 million per day over Memorial Day weekend.

Tip: Make sure you have the TSA PreCheck program and that your PreCheck (or Global Entry) program is up to date.

Airport facilities

Some airports, where traffic has already returned to pre-pandemic levels, say they are close to fully reopening in the summer; others say they need more time.

At Phoenix Airlines Terminal 3, 44% of food and beverage outlets are open, compared to 69% at Terminal 4. Dallas-Fort Worth, which is already overcrowded, says 82% of its eating and drinking establishments are open; Tampa, which is in the midst of a boom, says 80% of its airport concessions are open. At Atlanta Airport, 40% of the concessions remain closed.

Rick Cotton,

executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which manages LaGuardia and Kennedy airports in New York and Newark Liberty in New Jersey, said more than half of the concessions are open and staffed, and food and beverage stands are open about 70 percent of the time.

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New York airports account for about 50% of passenger traffic to Covid, up from a third in the past four to six weeks. Concerned about a shortage of customer service workers, bus drivers, taxi dispatchers and other positions, Cotton said, the port authority has asked contractors to hire more staff.

So far, we’ve seen a good response, he says.

Sir, I want to thank you for your support. Cotton notes that travelers who haven’t been home in a year may be shocked by the new amenities at LaGuardia Airport. About half of the airport is new and beautiful. Last week the new taxiway, which was a key element of the reconstruction, was opened, which will reduce embarkation and disembarkation times.

Tip: Take extra time for the food line (and for the TSA check). And remember, airlines don’t have food you can buy on board.

Aviation vouchers, appropriations and expenditure

Robert Lowenheim, an entertainment producer from Shawnee-on-Delaware, Pennsylvania, tried to reach a United booking agent four times last week when he wanted to use flight credits to rebook from Newark to Barcelona. United allows you to combine coupons, but not flight credits. Flight credits can be converted to coupons, but then they cannot be used for international travel, only domestic travel.

Asking an airline for help can be more of a problem than a solution. The airline reports that call volumes and wait times have increased as customers request assistance with voucher and credit refunds, as well as customers with questions about masks and travel restrictions.

Photo:

Carolyn Custer/Associated Press

Confused? Mr Lowenheim is. It doesn’t make sense. Why can’t you combine the two flight credits? I’m not asking for my money back. I only wish I could use it, he says.

Many clients, like Mr. Lowenheim, spend time on the phone with airlines trying to recover $10 billion in credits and flight vouchers.

United says it is working to reduce wait times through more staff and better technology. Other airlines say the same thing.

Tip: The best way is to redeem coupons online. And be flexible to get around airline rules. Two vouchers can be used to buy two one-way tickets instead of one return ticket. (In Mr. Lovenheim’s case, United officials tried to do so, but the fee was much higher.)

Underutilised hotels

Hotels are experiencing labor shortages, resulting in long lines and problems reopening restaurants and lounges. According to the American Hotel & Lodging Association, hotels could lose 500,000 jobs by 2021.

Some hotels are quicker than others to fix basics like glasses in the bathroom and daily cleaning. This could take all summer, so be prepared.

The hotels say the lounges remain closed because business travelers have not yet returned – there are not enough customers to justify reopening.

According to Marriott, amenities such as restaurants, spas and resort activities are open in locations where business is more active. It’s also true that many lounges in our more urban markets continue to underperform due to low occupancy, says Erika Alexander, Marriott’s director of global operations. Our priority now is to rent out in markets where the demand for leisure is growing.

Hilton says more than 80 percent of its 6,400 hotels are equipped with digital keys that let you skip the front desk; Marriott says mobile keys are available in about 65 percent of its hotels, and nearly all offer mobile check-in and check-out.

Hyatt

Digital keys are available in 600 of the company’s 1,000 hotels; IHG Hotels and Resorts has digital check-in in about half of its 6,000 hotels, but room keys must still be left at the front desk.

Tip: Call ahead to find out what breakfast service the hotel offers. And be prepared for failures with mobile buttons – the technology is not yet mature.

Car rental

It’s creepy, especially if you’re going to a remote place like Hawaii or Alaska. During the pandemic, car rental companies sold most of their fleets to survive. With the current increase in demand, they don’t have enough cars. Travelers report not finding cars when they arrive with reservations. In some cases, companies cancel customers’ reservations shortly before the rental.

Long lines for car rentals could be the norm in many popular locations this summer – and that’s if you have time to book a car. The shortage of cars in the context of an influx of travelers has made rental car reservations expensive and rare.

Photo:

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Hertz says it is buying low-mileage used cars to supplement its fleet as new car production has fallen due to a shortage of semiconductors. Enterprise, which owns National and Alamo, says some customers are keeping their cars longer than expected. (Tip: some people book a car for a day or two, as it is easier to get a reservation that way and leave the car for the duration of the stay).

Tips: Consider carpooling or at least taking a taxi or going to a nearby car rental agency where, unlike airports, there may be more cars than customers. Please check vehicle availability before booking your flights – depending on vehicle availability, you may wish to land at a different airport. And use your corporate discount when booking, even for vacations. Maybe you can avoid the exorbitant prices.

Email Scott McCartney at [email protected]

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