Starting this past weekend, airline passengers have begun to feel the impact of our government's sequester cuts. One of the many budget cuts affects the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The FAA is responsible for staffing the air traffic controlers at airports throughtout the U.S.
FAA officials have said they have no choice but to furlough all 47,000 agency employees, including nearly 15,000 controllers. Each employee will lose one day of work every other week. The FAA furlough went into affect on Sunday April 21st and ripples began causing delays at many of the major airports.
One FAA official describes the air traffic the same has highway traffic...Imagine you have a toll booth on a major highway. Normally all 10 booths are open but if you only have enough staff to keep 6 toll booths open, traffic will naturally back up. The FAA has said that planes will have to take off and land less frequently, so as not to overload the remaining controllers on duty.
As the video suggests, some airports will be more dramatically affected initially than others but give it time...these problems will get worse. If there is a delayed departure from one airport, this causes a massive ripple effect with connecting flights at the arrival airports. If there are dramatic delays then expect flights will be cancelled.
As time unfolds, the airlines may be forced to cancel or limit their scheduled flights to help alleviate traffic congestion in the skies for the limited numbers of controllers on the job. Remember the travel industry is all about supply and demand...if there are less flights and less airline seats available...prices WILL go up on the remaining seats due to a higher demand for them.
BUT WAIT...THERE'S MORE - And it ain't good news....
Remember, the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) is also a government agency. They are responsible for airport security and screening passengers and luggage. So far they have been able to dodge a bullet when it comes to furloughs but they currently have a hiring freeze on and they have cut overtime for their employees. Overtime TSA workers are needed during peak travel times like summer travel months. Again with less employees being hired and no overtime allowed this too will eventually mean less TSA agents available to work. This means less airport scanners will be opened with fewer personal to staff them resulting in much longer wait times for airport security check points.
So what does all this news mean for parents looking to take their kids on vacation this summer? If your vacation plans include flights, here are some tips to consider:
1. BOOK FLIGHTS NOW!!! - if you have been procrastinating making your vacation plans, book your flights immediately. Flight schedules will get consolidated so less airline seats mean even higher airfare prices if you wait. You won't be finding flight deals this summer (but check out tip #10 here)
2. EXPECT DELAYS - Be prepared!!! Come to the airport with the mindset that it will be a long wait. Hopefully this will not happed to your family but be prepared just in case. Explain the situation to your kids so they will be prepared too. Bring extra batteries, videos, games, books, diapers, snacks and activities so that you are prepared for the worst possible scenario. Yes, this is an inconvenience and a royal pain but think of the alternative.
3. NONSTOP FLIGHTS - If at all possible, book nonstop flights as early in the morning as possible. Yes, these flights usually do cost a bit more but in this situation it is money well spent. Delayed flights will mean missed connections. A nonstop flight could mean the difference between a Caribbean beach vacation or spending a few not so pleasant nights sleeping on the floor of an airport.
4. LONGER CONNECTION TIMES - If you do not have the option of a nonstop flight, allow yourself MUCH longer connection times. An average connection time now is about 1.5 to 2 hours. You may want to consider doubling these times. Falling victim to cheaper flights with 1 hour or less scheduled for connections is a gamble that may end up costing you big time in aggravation.
5. MAKE AIRPORT HOTEL RESERVATIONS - If you find yourselve with a short connection time late in the day you may want to plan ahead and make a reservation for a nearby airport hotel. If your flight gets cancelled, there may be hundred of other stranded passengers scrambling to find hotel availability at the last minute. Many hotels will allow you to cancel your reservations without penalty up until a certain time on the day of your arrival. Having a hotel reservation in your back pocket as a plan B might mean the difference between your family sleeping in a hotel bed or on the floor at the airport.
6. WATCH FLIGHT SCHEDULES - Even if you have paid for your tickets and have confirmed reservations, the airlines can STILL change your schedule and flight times. They own the planes so they can do what they want. Here at Vacationkids we're already seeing lots of flight schedule changes for summer flights. This is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. Check and double check your itinerary and flight times as you get closer to your departure. It's probably the last thing you want to worry about WHILE you're on vacation but it's important and could avoid even longer airport wait times.
7. TRAVEL INSURANCE - Trip interruption coverage will kick in just in case you find yourself stranded somewhere with a missed connecting flight. It will help reimburse you for the cost of hotel stays, food or rebooking new last minute flights on another airline.
8. KNOW YOUR RIGHTS - Every airline outlines passengers rights in their "contract of carriage". Most airlines publish these fine print legalese documents online. It explains precisely what type of reimbursement every delayed passenger is entitled to receive. Often the airlines bank on passenger ignorance and will offer less if they can get away with it.
9. KEEP YOUR COOL - You're right, it's suppose to be your vacation and being inconvenienced really sucks. Remember, this is a great learning experience for your kids. It teaches them how to be flexible and how to roll with the punches. If you start throwing a tantrum yourself and spewing explatives at airline employees, what will this teach your kids?
10. BOOK A CRUISE - If you can't stand the idea of dealing with flight delays and airport hassles, book a cruise. Carnival cruise lines has taken a lot of heat recently thanks to the Triumph fire but...They have addressed their problems. (Unneccessary) Bad press has resulted in some fantastic cruise savings this summer. Remember too Disney cruise line, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and other family cruise lines haven't had any such problems. So if you want to avoid airport all together, drive to port and take a cruise to the Caribbean or Mexico.