For many travelers, cancellations and other issues have made this summer particularly frustrating. To help you understand how we got here and how to get the most out of your own travels, two Times travel experts — Niraj Chokshi, who deals with transportation, and Heather Murphy, who reports on how people travel — have questions from readers answered.
Why are so many flights cancelled? — Anna, South Bend, Ind.
Niraj: It’s a confluence of issues. The demand is quite high. After two years of people not being able to travel or feeling safe because of Covid, summer travel is busy again. The other problem: there is a shortage of labor. Both airlines and airports struggle with hiring staff, which means there haven’t been enough baggage handlers, wheelchair agents, ramp agents right down to pilots.
To some extent, it is a problem that the airlines themselves have created. In the early days of the pandemic, when trying to cut costs, airlines encouraged many employees to leave through buyouts or early retirement. In the end it looks like that has come back to bite them.
Will the summer travel issues end in October for my destination wedding? — Martina Matheis, Stroudsburg, Pa.
Niraj: There is some hope. Major airlines have aggressively deployed staff, and those new employees should soon be fully trained. The industry should also get a bit of relief thanks to the seasonality: autumn is traditionally less crowded. Parts of the economy are also not doing so well, which could mean that fewer people will fly.
Do you think the price of airline tickets will ever fall? I’m broke, but I need a vacation. — Cynthia Soegiharto, South Portland, Maine
Heather: With many apps and websites – including Hopper, Kayak and Skyscanner – you can see what the prices will be at different time periods when you search for your flight. I appreciate that the Hopper app will tell you whether to book right away as prices are likely to rise, or wait for them to fall further.
Also, many airlines still allow people to change most flights at no cost, so you can buy a flight and then, if you can find a cheaper flight on that same airline, you can change it and get a credit.
If an airline cancels your flight, what rights do you have regarding refunds or vouchers? — Susan, southern New Jersey
Heather: If your airline cancels or changes your flight significantly, you will be expected to get your money back. It’s something people don’t realize, and airlines sometimes offer people vouchers when they actually owe you that money. If you are not automatically refunded, you may need to call the airline or fill out an online form. If the money has not appeared in your bank account within a few weeks of your request, you must notify your credit card company so that they can help you get your money back.
What steps should you take to avoid catching Covid while on vacation? — Libby Bucholz, Cary, NC
Heather: It’s tempting to put it out of our minds, but it’s wise to come up with a plan in advance. Some, but not all, travel insurance will cover an additional seven days of hotel and medical expenses if you test positive. Especially if you are over 65 or have been medically compromised, you should contact your GP and see if he or she can prescribe you Paxlovid while you are on the road.
You no longer need to test to return to the US or travel to most countries, so it’s really up to you to determine if you have Covid before flying home. CDC guidelines say if you test positive, isolate yourself for five days and then wear a mask for the next five days. (Heather gave more tips for travel after restrictions) here.)
What can I do to reduce the ecological footprint of my holiday? — Kevin Morooney, State College, Pennsylvania.
Niraj: The airlines I cover won’t appreciate me saying this, but fly less. Flying is a huge contribution everyone’s carbon footprint and if it matters to you it’s worth rethinking how much and how far you travel.
Do I have to send my luggage abroad to avoid the chaos of loss? — Carolyn Adams, Hilton Head Island, SC
Heather: If you must travel with something so precious to you that it would destroy your life if lost, put it in your carry-on. If it’s too big, it’s not a bad idea to ship it. But I don’t think we’re at the point where people have to stop checking their luggage yet.
For a big trip, is it better to use a travel agency or plan it yourself? — June Sambrowski, Morris Plains, NJ
Heather: Travel agents are great if you have the money to spend on them. With all the travel chaos and terrible customer service offered by so many airlines, if you have a travel agent, they could be the one to wait four hours on the phone instead of you.
Before entering journalism, Heather Murphy taught English at an institute in Chile with unconventional notions of essential words. Niraj Chokshi covers transportation, but his favorite way to get around is walking with his wife and their dog, Kevin.
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Claire Moses, Ian Prasad Philbrick, Tom Wright-Piersanti and Ashley Wu contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at [email protected].