As the winter holidays approach, Lawrencians will be booking flights to visit family and friends or for vacation. Before taking off, travelers should know what to expect and how to avoid unnecessary hassles when planning that winter getaway.
The season can be bad for air travel, as Lawrence resident Chelsea Cooley discovered last year when traveling to India. A snowstorm on Christmas Day canceled her flight out of Kansas City. After waiting out a series of delays and canceled flights, Cooley was so flustered that she made the mistake of opening her suitcase while waiting in line to board.
“I didn’t realize this was a security breach, so as I was sitting on my suitcase, hair a mess, dirty, some very stylish-looking Emirates airline attendant came over to ask if I wanted to ‘take a later flight,’” Cooley says. “As she approached me, I heard a man through her walkie-talkie pointing me out.”
Fortunately, Cooley eventually made her way to India. But she is not the only one to get more adventure than she bargained for when buying that holiday plane ticket.
More travel tips
•Take a flight in the morning, if possible. At airports, delays accumulate over the course of the day, so you are most likely to take off on time if you fly early and get ahead of the traffic.
• Leave earlier than you think you should. It is important to arrive at the airport at least 90 minutes before a flight is scheduled to leave.
• Most airports have shuttles – which can eliminate the delay and cost of parking – as well as “cell phone lots” where drivers picking up a traveler can park and wait until notified.
• Arrival and departure information is usually available on airport websites where travelers can sign up to have their flight status sent to a cell phone.
• It’s a good idea to check out www.tsa.gov, where the Transportation Security Administration has updates to help travelers be prepared for security procedures.
The good news? Travelers can count on a useful online tool to help them navigate the skies. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics keeps track of flight delays, cancellations and a wide variety of travel information and makes it available to the public at www.bts.gov. A quick look at the data can be helpful when figuring out when to book a flight and what kinds of conditions to expect.
Travelers can check out the statistics of their own particular flight plans at www.bts.gov under the subject area “aviation and airline data.” The site provides a mind-boggling array of information, but the “flight delays at-a-glance” option provides an easily searchable database complete with charts and graphs. Drop-down menus allow the traveler to search by airport, airline, month and year. This is handy for checking the traffic on your proposed day of departure, and the site is so user-friendly that you may find yourself browsing around just for fun.
The “detailed statistics” option allows us to see that on Dec. 30, 2009, American Airlines flew 12 flights out of Kansas City International Airport. Two of those were delayed for an average of 2 1/2 hours. On the same day, 19 of Southwest Airlines’ 62 flights out of KCI were delayed for an average of one hour.
Valerie Wise, air service and business development manager at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport, says the holidays were the busiest time of year, with traffic ramping up over Thanksgiving weekend and remaining heavy until the lull before spring break.
Provided your flight does take off on time, Wise has a few suggestions to make things easy at the airport. She recommends checking in online and printing your boarding pass at one of the electronic terminals.
“That’s a nice, easy feature to take advantage of,” Wise says. “If you don’t have to check luggage, you don’t even have to go to the ticket counter.”