We have all experienced it, but this makes it official. On April 2, 2007 the 16th annual Airline Quality Rating report found that for the third year in a row there were more airline passengers bumped, more bags lost and fewer on-time flights.
This report, according to www.travelwriters.com, studied 18 airlines and based its research on Transportation Department statistics. In response to the report, an industry spokesperson was quoted as saying that the situation is not expected to improve anytime soon.
News headlines recently featured several airline debacles, with the Valentine's Day 10-hour ground hold by JetBlue at New York's JFK airport being the worst. Hundreds of passengers were trapped in aircraft on the tarmac, waiting to depart during an ice storm. This has led to a ground swell of passenger's rights movements, and only time will tell how this will affect travelers.
What can the general public do with this information? According to Susan Foster, author of Smart Packing for Today's Traveler (www.smartpacking.com), just realizing that it may happen to you on your next flight and planning for that possibility is a wise approach.
To avoid involuntary bumping, Foster suggests travelers should check in for their flight online as far in advance as their airline allows. Arrive at the airport with plenty of time to check in and get through security to your gate (this can be as much as two hours in advance), and know your airline check-in deadline. If you're late, they can reassign your seat and you may be left behind.
Foster strongly recommends that travelers know their rights to compensation if they are bumped. Go to the airline's website and look for "Contract of Carriage," search for "bumping compensation". Or ask the travel agent or airline ticket agent for a printed version.
Since none of us can predict how and when travel disasters might occur, the best plan is to be prepared on every trip. Foster offers some simple measures travelers can take to help survive airport and aircraft delays as they embark on their next trip, be it for business or pleasure.
Problem: Aircraft are held for hours on the tarmac and run out of food and water.
1. Pack a carry-on bag with survival snacks that are NOT liquid or gel, and that don't require refrigeration. Crackers, granola bars, trail mix, raisins, fresh fruit (apples, bananas, oranges, grapes) all can be packed from home and will successfully pass through airport TSA security screening.
2. Buy a water bottle in the airport for each passenger in your group, after you have cleared security. Even if you travel on schedule, you will appreciate having plenty to drink without waiting for service from the flight attendants.
3. If traveling with an infant, be sure to pack extra diapers, baby food and supplies to accommodate a possible delay. Baby formula and breast milk may exceed the three ounce limit, as well as other infant/toddler foods.
The Problem: Carry-on Liquids and Gels
Foster reminds travelers to follow TSA's "3-1-1" rule for carrying on cosmetics, toiletries, and all liquids, gels or aerosols. Most of the world follows the same policy for liquids and gels:
3 = 3 ounce (100 ml) or smaller containers of liquids or gels
1 = 1 quart-size (1 liter) clear plastic, zip-top bag to hold the 3 ounce containers
1 = 1 bag only per traveler placed in the security bin for screening.
Travel with only your essential cosmetics and toiletries in
travel/sample sizes of three ounces or less, tucked into the quart zip-top bag. If you need larger quantities for a longer trip, pack unbreakable containers in your checked luggage, carefully enclosed in sturdy zip-top bags to prevent leaking.
Problem: Flights are cancelled and travelers must stay overnight at the airport or at a nearby hotel
1. Pack a carry-on bag containing everything that simply cannot be lived without for a day. If checking luggage, at least carry-on the necessities of life and work including:
Computer and cell phone and chargers
Partial change of clothing
A light jacket, gloves and hat: You never know what the weather will be like in the city where you are stuck.
2. Carry all airline phone numbers (or program them into your cell phone) and frequent flyer info. Never just stand in a customer service line with every other passenger on your flight, waiting to be rebooked when a flight is cancelled. Go to the rebooking counter line but immediately call your airline and get rebooked by phone. Not everyone will be conveniently accommodated, so act quickly. Standing in line
allows you to possibly retrieve your luggage or to pick up food/hotel vouchers and to hear verbal updates.
3. If you are a member of hotel frequent guest programs, pack the toll free phone numbers (or program them into your cell phone) so that you can be one of the lucky travelers to score a hotel room before they are sold out. Carry account information with you, as frequent guests may receive priority.
These simple steps can mean the difference between total frustration and just minor inconvenience the next time you fly. For other smart packing and travel tips, visit www.smartpacking.com.