Dealing with furloughs

If you listen to the news, you have probably heard about the mandatory federal budget cuts that have been happening over the last few months. I kept hearing dire warnings about the FAA cuts and flight delays, but it never seemed like anything was happening. Until now. Starting in April, TSA instituted a hiring freeze and ban on overtime, and the FAA furloughed thousands of employees.

A few weeks ago when I flew to Canada my flights were slightly delayed, but nothing crazy. But this past week when I went to Vegas, it was insane. At home, the security lines were much longer than normal, and moving much more slowly than normal. And coming home? A freaking madhouse. Not only did the check-in line literally wrap around the airport, but the flight was delayed and then we sat on the tarmac for over an hour waiting to take off. Now I know this is not the worst it can be, and I have seen worse personally on occasion. What makes me nervous is that on top we are coming up on the busiest travel season of the year. A friend of mine who is a flight attendant summed it up this way:

Summer storms are worse than snowstorms, and that means flights get delayed and canceled. It’s the busiest months of the year, the most people travelling, and airlines are at their max. Add in TSA and FAA furloughs that started in April….

So flight crews/pilots and airline personnel are going to start their summers early. What does that mean for passengers? April-August is a LONG time for employees to be maxed out (flying too many hours for that many months). Crews have short layovers now, and the layovers get shorter because of flight delays. Crews get exhausted and call in sick. This holds true for most airlines, so even if you think your favorite doesn’t have these problems, you just got lucky when you flew last time!

While supposedly Congress gave the FAA some budget flexibility to deal with the furloughs, I will still assume there will be delays until I see otherwise.

Between my personal experience and the suggestions from my flight attendant friend, I have a list of recommendations for dealing with the possibility of extreme delays:

Sign up for notifications. When you purchase your ticket, you can sign up for text notifications about flight delays. I highly recommend doing this because you can find out earlier about any issues. When I got a notification that my flight to DFW was delayed (and I would therefore miss my connection) I had enough notice to get moved to an earlier flight.

Check status before you leave the airport. I know we all say we are going to do this, but sometimes when rushing around preparing for a trip the simple things slip your mind. This summer, definitely check flight status before heading to the airport.

Give yourself lots of time. Business travelers generally hate to get to the airport any earlier than they absolutely have to, but right now I recommend giving yourself a lot of time. There were many people who missed the flight home from Vegas because they were stuck in line. Right now I would recommend getting there an hour than you would normally—so three hours early for the super busy airports and two hours for the smaller ones.

Call the airline. Finally, if you’re really unsure about your flight status, call. According to my friend, a lot of times (although not all the time) the customer service line will be honest if you ask questions like, will the pilots, crew, and aircraft be there in time?

I hope this time of crazy delays passes quickly!

Readers, what are your strategies for dealing with long lines and flight delays?

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