For airlines and their passengers, it’s safe to say this summer hasn't been an easy one. The lingering effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, staff shortages, and freak weather events have resulted in a season of delays and cancellations that have left many travelers understandably frustrated. With some of these difficulties expected to continue into the fall, many Americans will doubtless be wondering what they can do to better their chances of getting where they need to go.
Enter Brett Snyder, better known as the Cranky Flier. Brett runs an online news site and podcast which keeps readers up to date on the latest developments in the airline industry and advises passengers on the pitfalls and perks of air travel. USTN sat down with Brett to pick his brain on the best way to navigate the ongoing uncertainty and what should be done differently in the future.
What advice to you have for passengers whose flights are delayed or cancelled?
If your flight is canceled or delayed, your best bet is to try everything. If you're at the airport, get in line to talk to an agent. At the same time, get on hold with the reservations phone number. While you're at it, flip on Wi-Fi and go on the airline website/app. You can also try Twitter. If you've done all this, then it may be worth researching your options to try to have something ready to go when you do reach an agent. It's not easy to balance all of this, but you never know which channel is going to get you help first. Of course, you can also rely on friends and family to assist, but never underestimate the value of a good travel agent.
What would you say is the best US airline in terms of reliability?
This all depends on your timeframe. I took a look at Anuvu data from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend this year, the traditional summer travel season. The best airlines were mostly the ultra low cost carriers. Only Frontier, Spirit, and Sun Country along with Alaska and Hawaiian canceled less than 1% of scheduled flights. Meanwhile, only Alaska and Delta had more than 80% of flights arrive within 14 minutes of schedule. (Spirit gets an honorable mention at 79.4%.) But this can vary depending upon the season and of course, this changes tremendously depending upon where weather hits and which airlines have the largest operations in those places.
If you could make any changes to the current regulation of airlines what would you change and why?
That's a big question. I think more important than changing regulations is to make sure the existing rules are enforced properly. This can ebb and flow depending upon the administration in charge, but airlines can break the rules and not face strong enough consequences. Thinking of the rules themselves, the airlines do tend to be regulated more than other industries. I always think about price rules that require advertised airfares to include all mandatory charges. Meanwhile, hotels can tag on higher and higher mandatory resort fees and not tell you until later down the road. So I'd like to see more uniformity.
On the safety side, there are certainly issues in terms of blurred lines between the regulators and the airlines/aircraft manufacturers. What happened with the 737 MAX debacle is inexcusable. It would be good to see a more independent, quicker moving FAA/DOT.
What’s your worst travel experience? Why was it so terrible?
I don't tend to dramatize these things. Everyone has had miserable travel experiences, but in the end I've always made it home eventually. Sure there have been long delays and canceled flights, but none of them really stand out to me. I suppose the worst experience I can remember was flying into Charlotte during a summer thunderstorm 30 years ago. That plane was rocking and rolling, and it was pretty scary. But again, we made it. Or maybe it was the flight from Honolulu to LA when I was a kid where our seats got moved to the smoking section. That was pretty awful.
What do you think will be the lasting impact of Covid-19 on airlines, especially with regard to customer experience?
It's hard to say that there will be any lasting impact to the customer experience. The airlines learned to market the safety of their air circulation systems. Sure, they did things like electrostatic spraying, but most of that has fallen by the wayside. It's mostly back to normal.
If you could make one change to air travel today what would it be an why?
Well, look, I'd like it to be cheaper. That's not saying it SHOULD be cheaper, but if I get one wish, I want to fly in a flat bed everywhere for a lot less money. It's not realistic, but it would be a very nice change.
What are you best tips for getting a free upgrade on a flight?
There aren't any. People will talk about being nice to gate agents or wearing a suit or all sorts of other silliness. But over the years, the gate agents have lost the control they used to have to upgrade people with impunity. At the same time, the difference between coach and first class fares have come down, so the best tip is to just buy a ticket in a higher cabin if you think it's worth it.