how airlines are preparing and how travelers can defend against flight disruptions – Sun Sentinel

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Your suitcases are packed, tickets in hand and you are good to go. But will disruption-plagued airlines in South Florida be able to avoid the string of delays and cancellations that have plagued customers all year?

Analysts and critics aren’t so sure.

“I don’t think they can handle the crowds,” said Clint Henderson, editor of The Points Guy, a consumer advice guide for air travellers. “What we are seeing is a drumbeat of delays and cancellations. There are already a lot of people there and it is expected to be even more crowded in the summer. Airlines, airports, hotels and car rental companies do not have staff for this request. I think you’re going to see more seizures.

Unions representing airline workers say national carriers are still failing to seamlessly serve a public eager to return to the skies after being locked down by the COVID-19 pandemic. In Florida, the problem was particularly acute during major holiday weekends, as airlines canceled or delayed thousands of flights due to tumultuous weather.

Last Wednesday, the head of the Air Line Pilots Association, which represents 64,000 cockpit crew members in the United States and Canada, ripped airlines for accepting billions in federal government aid to maintain their networks up in the air, but fell short when consumer demand rebounded from the pandemic.

“Over the past three years, the U.S. government, U.S. taxpayers, airline workers, and corporate management have risen to the challenge of the pandemic,” ALPA President Joe Depete said during a briefing. union board meeting in Washington. “But … after securing federal aid on a scale no other industry has received, the failure of some airlines to plan for recovery threatens to cost our industry the return.”

Industry watchers say the problems in Florida go beyond staffing and strong consumer demand. Air traffic control shortages and more frequent storms in the region have exacerbated the problem. The Federal Aviation Administration also pointed to a new source of disruption: an increase in commercial space launches from Cape Canaveral on Florida’s east coast.

Ahead of Memorial Day weekend, the South Florida Sun Sentinel asked several major carriers serving the tri-county area — American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, Spirit Airlines and Southwest Airlines — to project how well they were ready to help passengers deal with potential disruptions.

Generally, airlines such as Southwest and Spirit have reduced the number of flights they intend to offer as they continue the process of replenishing their lists of pilots, flight attendants and flight attendants. other workers who have been furloughed or taken into early retirement during the pandemic.

American said it is hiring more than 600 home-based employees in the South Florida area to handle reservations. The airline has 200 people in training, with a goal to hire more than 400 in the next two months, bringing the total to nearly 800. More than 1,500 were hired in Miami last year.

Regarding traffic for the coming weekend, a US Miami spokeswoman said the airline expects a system-wide average of more than 5,700 departures between the 26th and 30th. may.

“For comparison, we operated 5,179 flights on Memorial Day (Monday of the holiday weekend) last year, and 6,381 in 2019,” said spokeswoman Laura Masivdal.

In an email, Southwest said that in an effort to bolster reliability in the spring and summer, the airline increased its system workforce by about 3,300 people in the first quarter of this year after taking into account departures of previous employees. The airline said it plans to hire around 10,000 employees in 2022.

“Southwest has also previously adjusted its published flight schedules from June to August 2022 to provide an additional buffer to operation this summer,” said the airline, which is a primary carrier at Fort International Airport. Lauderdale-Hollywood.

The other three carriers did not respond before the close of business on Friday.

Earlier this month, representatives from several carriers, including South Florida-based Spirit, met for two days with the Federal Aviation Administration to discuss cancellation and disruption issues in Florida.

After its conclusion, the FAA said it would “immediately” increase staff at its hub air traffic control center in Jacksonville to deal with the growing number of flights to and from Florida.

“The agency will work with stakeholders to develop a playbook for keeping aircraft moving safely when weather conditions, space launches or other events limit capacity,” the FAA said in a statement. “The FAA will increase airlines’ ability to keep aircraft moving during these events using alternate routes and altitudes when possible.”

The agency stopped short of capping flights to and from Florida, and more meetings are planned with airlines over the summer, the FAA said.

The FAA did not respond when asked this week whether it had made those personnel changes.

Government figures show most major Florida airports have rebounded from severe service cuts caused by COVID-19, with flights increasing by more than 100% in Miami, West Palm Beach and Tampa. Fort Lauderdale would be 90%.

Southwest said it “appreciates the FAA’s focus on air traffic challenges affecting Florida airspace and the continued support of airlines working to serve air travelers in the region.”

But that can be little comfort for stranded air passengers who are again prevented from reaching their destination on time.

Henderson of The Points Guy thinks airline performance this upcoming Memorial Day will be a good indicator of what lies ahead for the summer.

“We will have a good idea of ​​how airlines deal with crowds,” he said. “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be an interesting summer.

If passengers are faced with a long delay or cancellation, Henderson and his colleagues at The Points Guy recommend that you react quickly, research your options, and make a decision on another trip.

Some ideas:

  • In advance, find out about available flights on other airlines along the route you intend to fly. “You should know before you go which carriers operate on this route,” Henderson said. You can track and check flight status through online tracking sites FlightAware or Flight Radar 24, which would give you a leg up on other passengers.
  • On your phone, download airline apps for a quick reference tool. If a flight is cancelled, you may be able to rebook on the app.
  • Check with your airline’s gate agent for revised flight times. Do not rely solely on the terminal’s electronic charts, as they are not always up to date.
  • If your flight is cancelled, you can go to the ticket reissue line. While doing this, go to the app to see if they have a rebook option and message the airline about your situation on Twitter.
  • Airport lounges: If you are a member of an airline club with access to a lounge operated by your airline, visit them. There will likely be an airline agent on hand to help you make new reservations and update alternative flight information.
  • Canceled without flight options? Check airport hotels if you’re not looking to get home right away. Better to wake up rested and refreshed to face the next day. Whether an airline pays for the overnight stay depends on various situations. If the airline is a major carrier and the delay or cancellation is its fault, such as a crew shortage, the carrier will foot the bill. But Henderson says if the delay is caused by an act of God, like the weather, “it’s hard to say black and white that yes, you’ll get a refund or that insurance will cover you,” Henderson said. If you are on a discount carrier or regional airline, or if you book the lowest economy class ticket, the airline will not pay.
  • Refunds: Some credit cards offered by Chase and American Express (which charge significant annual fees) offer travel delay coverage. This means that travel insurance will pay for hotel accommodation, ground transportation and meals. You’ll likely have to pay for additional expenses up front, but you can get reimbursed later.
  • Refunds: Don’t settle for an airline voucher for future travel. Under federal rules, you are entitled to money.
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