Consumer Alert: Post pandemic travel nightmares. Why it pays to be prepared

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — This week most of our consumer alerts have focused on ways to save on your summer travel. One thing is certain. It pays to be prepared. The travelers are masked, the planes are packed, and you better prepare to be delayed.

According to data from Flight Aware, July 1 through July 6, 51% of JetBlue’s flights were delayed, 39% of Southwest flights and more than a third of American Airlines’ flights were late, 34% to be exact.

Here’s part of the problem. During the pandemic, airlines furloughed thousands of employees, many of them pilots. But before those pilots can take to the skies again, they have to undergo extensive training. So many airlines simply don’t have the staff right now to meet the demand. For example, let me tell you about my recent trip to Houston. I took my 86-year-old dad and my two elementary-age children.

We left at 1 p.m. from Rochester and arrived in Baltimore just after 2 p.m. Our layover was supposed to be about four hours, which is long enough with two kids in tow. Instead, that layover was eight hours. We left Baltimore at 10 p.m. and got to Houston after midnight.

Oh, but the delays didn’t end there. Our return flight from Houston was scheduled for 3-o’clock. We boarded at 2:30 p.m. and had to sit on the tarmac for an hour and a half. Yep, another delay. Then we flew to Savannah, stayed on the same plane, then to Baltimore. We were delayed again as we waited on other delayed passengers from connecting flights. We arrived in Rochester at 11:30 p.m., and we’d been sitting on the same plane for 8 hours.

I share this with you to stress the importance of packing lunches and snacks. We had to have lunch and dinner at the airport. And airport prices for both meals would have stretched my budget. And remember, for the return flight we were on the same plane for more than eight hours. Our airline was only serving four drinks – coke, diet coke, sprite and water. No food. Again, it’s a good thing I packed lunch, which leads me to a new development this week.

United announced a return to serving food to economy passengers, but you have to pre-order. Five days before your flight you’ll get an email to pre-order your snacks. I wanted to check out the prices for you but the airline’s website for pre-orders was down all afternoon. Let’s hope they get that up and running soon.

If you’re planning a trip, here’s Deanna’s Do List for ways to save on airfare:

  • Try to always travel on Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday when flights are cheaper.
  • You can save up to 40% when you book your flight and hotel together.
  • Book your tickets as early as possible.
  • Be flexible with your times. According to the financial website, The Street, many are unwilling to fly before 7 a.m. or overnight flights.
  • Compare discount websites like Kayak, Orbitz, Hopper and Expedia before you buy.
  • And be willing to book flights with one or two stops. Despite my layover nightmare, I’d do it again to get a cheaper flight.