Flight delays may be unavoidable, but there are ways to reduce the risk


As recently as last week, when Southwest Airlines passengers faced long delays after its planes were grounded nationwide, air travel has become a nightmare far too often.

As recently as last week, when Southwest Airlines passengers faced long delays after its planes were grounded nationwide, air travel has become a nightmare far too often.

There are several reasons why flights get delayed, including bad weather, which is unavoidable, or other problems beyond the airline’s control.

Smart planning, however, can reduce the odds of your dream trip turning into a nightmare.

Experienced travelers already know that it’s always best to book the first flight out of somewhere.

But CBS travel editor Peter Greenberg said it is even smarter to “take the first flight of the day of an airline that’s not based where you are.”

The reasoning behind that is simple.

“The flight that you’re going to take most likely came in the night before, and the crew will stay with that plane. And you’ll be on the first flight out, and you’ll actually get to where you want to go,” Greenberg said.

If you find a direct flight to your final destination, then that’s great. Not everyone is that lucky, so you also want to keep a few more things in mind so as not to “lose before you even start,” Greenberg said.

“Airlines are flying fewer flights with larger planes, and they’re scheduling them at mostly peak hours,” Greenberg said. That’s why, he said, you’re smart to give yourself as much as two-and-a-half hours between connections to minimize the possibility that some bad luck turns into something disastrous.

“With every flight being full, if you miss that first flight, you may spend the night in a rocking chair in Charlotte,” Greenberg said.

Syndicated travel columnist Christopher Elliott said there are reasons to be optimistic that airlines might be upping their customer service as Americans prepare to fly for spring and summer travel.

“The Department of Transportation is really looking over their shoulders this summer to make sure that nothing goes wrong,” Elliott said. “They’ve been warned … and if they don’t provide the customer service that they’re supposed to, I think they might get into some trouble in the regulatory sense.”

Low-fare carriers might not be too worried. Their “abuse” of customers, as Elliott described it, is well known but doesn’t seem to stop people from booking anyway.

But with all the problems Southwest Airlines has had, between what happened during the Christmas holiday and last week’s computer glitch last week, Elliott said a contrarian traveler might be confident in booking with Southwest this summer.

“I would fly on Southwest this summer because you know that they’re going to try extra hard to make sure everything goes right,” Elliott said.

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