Are Your Flights Going to Take Off on Time This Summer?

A record number of travelers will head for the skies this summer, while airlines face Boeing aircraft delays and lingering pandemic problems. Experts predict what this will mean for your summer travel plans.

A line of air passengers standing at an airport gate, silhouetted against wall of windows

As travelers head out for their summer getaways, they should have backup plans in place for if and when flights go awry.

Photo by EviJanku/Shutterstock

A record 4.7 billion people are expected to travel by air this summer and several factors may converge to create chaos at the country’s airports. A recent report from global travel technology company Amadeus found that “flight disruption remains above historical norms,” and the situation isn’t going to get better any time soon. According to the report, the global airline industry is still struggling with the rapid increase in demand for air travel.

“High summer 2024 travel demand, airlines over-scheduling, and staffing shortages at airports and airlines and the TSA,” can all add up to flight delays, says Tomasz Pawliszyn, CEO of AirHelp, an organization that helps passengers claim compensation for delayed and canceled flights. However, several other factors at play could make the situation even worse. Christina Tunnah, general manager for the Americas at travel insurance provider World Nomads, explains that on top of the other challenges, flight delays and cancellations are increasing because “climate change has resulted in the rise in extreme weather” (which can create a cascade of flight disruptions) and “strikes in some of Europe’s most popular destinations have been a more frequent occurrence.”

Travelers need to be prepared for ‘major travel meltdowns.’
Tomasz Pawliszyn, CEO of AirHelp

Additionally, “aircraft shortages caused by production issues at Boeing are expected to increase the risk of delays and cancellations as well,” says Daniel Durazo, director of communications at Allianz Partners USA, which sells travel protection.

Travelers are noticing the pinch even before the busy summer travel season begins. According to Jen Moyse, vice president of product at TripIt, a recent survey conducted in March by the travel organization app showed that 48 percent of the 1,800 U.S.-based respondents experienced some sort of flight disruption, such as “having their flight delayed or canceled” in the past six months. This is an 8 percent increase over a similar survey TripIt conducted in 2023, she said.

Airlines and airports are working to minimize disruptions. However, “as the travel industry is still rebounding from the pandemic and now dealing with another major setback due to aircraft being grounded for safety,” travelers need to be prepared for “major travel meltdowns,” Pawliszyn says. After a panel blew off a Boeing 737-9 Max Alaska Airlines plane midflight, safety concerns about Boeing aircraft grounded dozens of planes. As a result of ongoing safety issues, production of some Boeing planes is being delayed. Thus, some airlines have had to scale back the number of flights they can offer this summer and beyond.

Industry experts shared their advice about how travelers can prepare for what could be significant flight disruptions this summer—and how to protect your travel plans when they do.

Get travel insurance

Travel insurance won’t be able to get you to your destination on time, but it can help defray the costs of unexpected delays. If your flight is grounded, extra nights in a hotel, lost deposits on tours, and additional meals can add up quickly. Travel insurance can help, but coverage varies widely between providers and plans. “Some travel insurance policies will cover airline strikes, but won’t cover airline staffing issues,” says World Nomads’ Tunnah. The amount covered varies widely, too. For example, some World Nomads plans will cover up to $2,500 in losses while others cover up to $10,000 in losses.

When it comes to travel insurance, “one size does not fit all,” Moyes of TripIt notes. She recommends choosing a plan carefully to ensure it meets your needs.

Despite the variations, “most travel insurance plans offer protection against flight cancellations, travel delays, and delayed or lost luggage,” Tunnah says. However, if your flight is delayed or canceled, coverage may not kick in automatically. “In all circumstances, the travel insurance provider will require you to seek compensation or a ‘make right’ from the airline first,” she says. That means if an airline offers to cover a hotel room for the night and you turn it down, your insurance plan probably won’t cover the cost of the nicer hotel you prefer.

To get the most out of your travel insurance, document why your flight was canceled or delayed, any compensation the airline offered, and keep your receipts.

How to stay ahead of flight disruptions

The more notice you have about a flight disruption, the more time you will have to adjust your plans. So, you’ll want to stay ahead of the curve and find out about flight disruptions as soon as they are announced. One way to find out about potential delays or cancellations quickly is to download your airline’s app. “We encourage all passengers to download their carrier’s app as soon as they purchase a ticket. U.S. airlines have made significant investments in their mobile apps so they can relay any flight updates such as boarding times, gate numbers, and any other important announcements,” Airlines for America, an organization that represents all of the major U.S. carriers, tells Afar.

You should also download the flight tracking app FlightAware, which can tip travelers off to upcoming changes even before the airline does. For instance, if you see that your flight keeps getting bumped back, you can check FlightAware to find out where your plane actually is. If it seems to be stuck at the previous departure airport, you may want to start looking into alternative flight options as a backup.

How to plan for the unexpected

Given the high potential for flight disruptions this summer, it’s important to be flexible. “Build extra time into your plans to account for potential disruptions if you need to make an event like a wedding or cruise departure” by planning on arriving a day or two early, advises Moyse. She also recommends packing an extra set of clothes, essential items, medications, device batteries and chargers, and additional snacks in your carry-on bags in case you experience delays.

Book strategically

There isn’t a magic formula to ensure your flight won’t be disrupted, but you can plan strategically to increase your chances of getting to your destination on time.

“It’s a great idea to book the first flight of the day, or at least in the morning. This way if your flight is delayed or canceled, you are more likely to be able to rebook the same day. Also, delays are less likely to domino in the morning,” Tunnah says.

Another great way to stack the odds in your favor is to fly nonstop. That way, you only need to worry about one flight being delayed rather than two or more. Getting a nonstop flight “may mean that you have to drive a little further to get to a large airport to avoid a layover” says Tunnah, adding that it could, however, save you time and money in the end.

Although the past does not always predict the future, “you can do a little research on your flight. Go to FlightAware and see how often your particular flight is delayed or canceled,” Tunnah recommends. If your flight has a poor track record of arriving on time, you may want to consider another option.

Know your rights

The U.S. Department of Transportation recently issued new regulations requiring airlines to automatically refund passengers when flights are significantly delayed or canceled. However, because airlines have six months to begin implementing these rules, most passengers won’t be able to get relief under the new rules this summer. (They are slated to go into effect in October 2024, unless the airlines appeal the decision.)

Until airlines are required to implement the new regulations, passengers traveling within the United States have very few concrete rights when it comes to flight disruptions.

“For domestic flights in the U.S., there aren’t any federal requirements so it’s up to the airline as to whether they want to compensate you for a delayed flight,” says Michael Soud, a lawyer specialized in corporate law and cross-border transactions and cofounder of travel blog Travel Insighter. He explained that it’s standard practice for many airlines to rebook passengers or provide hotel rooms and meal vouchers when flights are delayed for several hours or canceled. Some airlines may also give delayed passengers vouchers or miles to use toward future flights.

In fact, the DOT has created an airline customer service dashboard, where you can see what kind of compensation each airline has committed to.

But even though some airlines are willing to provide a lot of support when domestic flights are delayed or canceled, they aren’t legally required to do anything for stranded passengers, Soud says. “The only time the law requires compensation for domestic trips is when you are involuntarily bumped from a flight because an airline has oversold seats,” he says. Which means that the resulting compensation is extremely variable, at least for now.

When it comes to international flights, passengers have more rights, but they may be hard to enforce. Soud notes that the Montreal Convention states that international air travelers have the right to file a claim for reimbursement for a delayed or canceled flight with the airline. However, this isn’t always successful. “If the airline denies your claim, you’ll need to sue them in court to claim reimbursement,” which isn’t worth the hassle for many passengers, he says.

Passengers flying to, from, and within European Union (EU) countries are better protected. “If you’re flying from an EU airport to the U.S. or arriving at an EU airport from the U.S. with an EU-based carrier, you can claim compensation as a U.S. traveler,” Soud explains. Under EC 261/2004 “airlines must compensate you for delays, cancellations, and denied boarding,” he says. The type of compensation depends on how long you are delayed, but Soud notes that fliers’ rights in the EU typically kick in once flights are delayed for two hours or more.

Other countries have also passed laws that grant passengers rights when their flights are disrupted. For example, passengers flying to and from the United Kingdom have rights that are almost identical to those in the EU, according to Soud. If an international flight is delayed or canceled, it’s worth checking the laws of the countries you are flying in and out of to see if you are entitled to compensation—these rules typically govern foreign carriers flying within the governing body’s airspace as well.

Pack your patience

While flight disruptions are at the very least frustrating and at the worst can be costly, stressful, and even somewhat traumatic depending on where you are trying to get to and why, Moyse reminds travelers to “keep in mind the travel industry is still experiencing labor shortages and flight crews, hotel staff, travel agents, and other service workers are doing the best they can” and want to help. “Practicing patience and civility can help you, and fellow travelers, make the most of your trip, even if you do encounter disruptions,” she says, adding, “In the end, don’t let disruptions ruin your trip.”

Jamie Davis Smith is a writer, attorney, and mother of four. Her writing has appeared in Fodor’s Travel, Travel + Leisure, USA Today, Yahoo, Business Insider, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, and many other publications. When not off exploring, Jamie can be found enjoying her hometown of Washington, D.C.
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