Survival Strategies for Travel Problems Caused by Man, Nature and Airlines

It’s been kind of a lousy year of air travelers, what with volcanic ash, oil spills, and even drug-related violence (at least from time to time, in both Mexico and Jamaica).

Oh, Great – It’s Hurricane Season

Let’s see, what have I forgotten? Oh, right – hurricane season officially began this week, and it could be a doozy. Some are even calling it a potential “Katrina year” (but take comfort – these forecasts are often totally off or just plain wrong).

Don’t Forget Those Pesky Surcharges

And don’t forget those pesky “peak travel day surcharges” that several airlines have slapped onto nearly every day this summer (and you can see them all on my Peak Travel Day Surcharge Chart with the airlines, dates and prices listed).

The Problems – The Strategies

So what’s a traveler to do? You can still have a successful trip if you are aware of these survival strategies:

Volcanic Ash: Yes, it shut down European airspace for a time in April, but that volcano in Iceland is quiet for now – though it may not stay that way (and meanwhile, another volcano in Guatemala is creating new air travel problems). But interest in flights to Europe remains high this summer, so plenty of you are going. So what if you do run into ash clouds that ground your plane?

Survival Strategies: Let common sense prevail – probably nothing will happen, but why not be prepared?

  • First, get the cheapest possible flight to Europe – which should be a no-brainer.
  • Check with your airline; this week, for example, Delta Air Lines ran advisories about the ash from the Guatemala volcano and offered refunds to travelers for canceled flights, and waived “change fees” for those who wanted to make other plans.
  • You may want to look into the possibility of travel insurance but read all policies thoroughly before you buy to be sure it covers what you need it to cover.
  • Schedule your trip carefully; in other words, don’t plan a trip to Europe (volcano or no volcano) in which you return a day or two before a big event, such as an important meeting or a child’s first day of school. Flights can be delayed for many reasons, any time of year.

Oil Spills: Yes, oil is still flowing in the gulf, which is starting to effect airfare prices to the region – I recently put together a chart showing airfare prices trending downward.

Survival Strategies: Stay on top of the news – and yes, use common sense.

  • See if it makes sense for you to book a “refundable” airline ticket; it will cost more, but the peace of mind may be worth it.
  • If you’ve already booked a hotel, talk to the management about your concerns and see what they can do for you: we are hearing about hotels offering vouchers for future stays in the event of oil-on-the-beach, and perks like free food and free rounds of golf.

Sporadic Violence: Be aware that there have been problems in the border regions of Mexico and in Kingston, Jamaica (see a full list of problematic air travel destinations here).

Survival Strategies: Stay on top of the latest news reports; don’t put yourself in danger.

  • Check with the U.S. State Department’s website at www.Travel.State.Gov: it gives you the latest information on any sort of problem in other nations. Sign up for State Dept. email alerts which will notify you of changes in the country you want to visit.
  • Problems are often away from tourists areas (for example, Jamaica’s violence was in Kingston and not Montego Bay) but remember that situations can and do change without warning – and earlier this spring, Mexico saw some dangerous incidents in Acapulco.
  • Check with your airline’s website; it will keep you up to date on cancelations to regions in turmoil.

Peak Travel Day Surcharges: This is where you have to be crafty.

Survival Strategies: First, look at the chart showing airline peak travel day surcharges so you know what days have these surcharges and how much they’ll cost you.

  • First option is to avoid traveling on “surcharge dates” which pretty much means you have to shoehorn your summer vacation in after August 22.
  • Otherwise, note that the cheapest surcharges ($10 each-way) are for travel on Tuesdays and Wednesdays; arrange it so those are your departure/return days – or at least one of your travel dates, so you get at least half the benefits.

Mother Nature? Always a Gamble

Remember, when it comes down to Mother Nature alone, it’s always going to be something of a gamble. But, life in general can be a gamble. I mean, yes, we are indeed now in Hurricane Season, but that doesn’t keep people from flying to Florida – and having a wonderful time.

Picture above courtesy the NOAA

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Published: June 3, 2010