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Ten Ways to Avoid Airline Flight Delays

by Sharyn Alden

No matter how often you fly, you know this scenario by heart: You race to the airport to find your flight delayed. The arrival and departure monitors don't say why, but you'll probably be told your flight's delay is due to weather or mechanical problems.

There are other wrinkles, too. Once you board your rescheduled flight, possibly hours after its scheduled departure, you may face more delays on the ground due to the weather. You taxi out on the runway and the pilot announces that you're third in line for takeoff. Next comes an announcement that there's been a delay.

This time the delay may be mechanical. More waiting on the runway as passengers grow impatient, some surly.

If the problem can't be fixed immediately, you can guess what happens next. You taxi back to the gate, deplane, and try to get on another flight.

Most travelers wrongly assume that there's nothing they can do to alleviate flight delays and that there's no rhyme or reason for delays due to weather or mechanical problems.

That's true some of the time, but not all of the time. You can lessen your chances of booking a flight that may be delayed next time around. These tips can help you avoid delayed flights.

No. 1 Book nonstop flights

Don't be fooled by the words "direct flight." If it doesn't say "nonstop," the flight makes more than one stop.

Rule of thumb: The more stops the flight makes, the more opportunities for it to be delayed.

No. 2 Fly early in the day

Many travel consultants say fly before 4 p.m., otherwise stock up on reading material.

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Vladimir Stark, CEO of Plus4 Credit Union, Houston, says, "I try to schedule flights during early morning or late afternoon. Also, give yourself some leeway by arriving at the airport well in advance of your flight's anticipated departure time."

Stark, who flies about once a month, adds, "When you plan ahead, there's another bonus. Your stress level should decrease drastically."

Delays tend to ripple through the system throughout the day. If there are travel interruptions early in the day, later in the day they only tend to get worse.

Avoid booking the last flight of the day. If that flight is cancelled, you may end up staying overnight.

No. 3 Fly midweek

At most airports, there usually is lighter travel on Tuesday and Wednesday than on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Linda Poulsen, public and donor relations director of Wisconsin Automobile Truck Dealers Association, Madison, Wis., says, "I fly regularly to Atlanta on Wednesdays and there seems to be less traffic then compared to my return flight on Saturday night."

No. 4 Book an "originator" flight

Do your research to see if your flight is an originator flight. That means the flight begins at a specific airport at a specific time. These flights are less likely to be delayed because they are first 'out of the system.' You won't be waiting for another flight that may be delayed. You can find out if your flight is an originator flight by calling the airlines and asking if the flight originates in your gate city. Or, if you're departing from a large hub like Chicago on an early morning flight, chances are you're on an originator flight.

Rule 240 requires an airline to put a delayed passenger on the next available flight, even if it is on another airline.

No. 5 Think about the direction of your flight

If you're flying to the East or Gulf coasts, book departures early in the day. In general, storm systems throughout the country tend to kick up later in the day, so avoid early evening departures.

No. 6 Check your flights' status

Airlines have to furnish you with their on-time performance. You can check this at several Web sites (see "For more information" sidebar). If your flights are notoriously delayed, book other flights.

No. 7 Avoid major hubs

If you're flying to and from major hubs like Atlanta, Chicago O'Hare, and New York, you might avoid delays if you book flights at secondary airports near these hubs.

Get in the habit of looking at different hubs before you buy tickets. For example, check out http://www.avoiddelays.com/, a Web site from the National Air Traffic Controllers, Washington, D.C. It recently reported that Philadelphia International Airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and JFK International Airport in New York were among the country's worst for delays, having about 40% of flights running behind.

Poulsen tries to book direct flights from Madison or Milwaukee, as opposed to leaving from Chicago. "The time it takes to drive to Milwaukee is often less time than it takes to wait for a connecting flight to Madison," she says.

Even if flights are completely filled, airlines don't have to hold flights for passengers making connections.

No. 8 Don't book flights with tight connections

Even if flights are completely filled, airlines don't have an obligation to hold flights for passengers making connections.

On a flight to Puerto Rico, delayed taking off from Chicago, a flight attendant announced that 30 people on board were connecting to flights in San Juan, Puerto Rico. On some flights that took off later than scheduled, onboard flight attendants may call the passengers' connecting flights to keep the connecting flights informed of the late arrival. This is more apt to happen when a connecting flight is the last flight of the day and it affects several passengers on the delayed flight.

Rule of thumb: Leave yourself plenty of leeway when booking connecting flights.

No. 9 Obey carry-on restrictions

Avoid delays at the airport by obeying current rules for carry-on items from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Prepare to take off your shoes, as well as your coat and jacket, at security checkpoints. Empty pockets of loose change, and take off belts and jewelry. Speed up security lines by packing carry-on bags so they are easily accessible to hand searches.

No. 10 Carry these items with you

On a recent flight to Chicago's O'Hare airport, we sat on the runway at Reagan National in Washington D.C. close to four hours.

Airline delays have become just one of the more common components in the world of travel.

After about an hour's delay, passengers inside the cabin were rebooking connections in Chicago and making alternate travel arrangements, including finding hotel rooms in Chicago. All of which only could be done if you had a cell phone with you. The air phones attached to the back of some seats were not in use.

If you don't have a cell phone, buy a 'pay-as-you-go' cell phone.

Don't pack prescription medication inside your checked bag. Take these important items in your carry-on bag in the original prescription container. If your flight is delayed or your luggage is lost, you won't be without your medications when you need them.

If you're packing liquid prescriptions, check with your airline for the latest security information regarding bringing liquids on board in carry-on luggage.

Carry snacks in case you're delayed on the runway or in the terminal longer than expected. You can put snacks such as canned or jarred food, sauces, fruits, vegetables, yogurt, Jell-O, or peanut butter in carry-on bags as long as they are in 3 oz. containers. Other good diversions are reading material, games, and music.

After your flight goes from delayed to cancelled status

Get to the nearest computer or phone to start discussing the status of your flight with your airline.

And it pays to know your rights. Invoke "Rule 240" if you have problems due to a delay. This is the airline's own rule about what it has to do to help you continue your trip. Airlines have to honor its "contract of carriage." That means if the delay is the airline's fault due to a mechanical delay and not a weather delay, major legacy carriers like American, United, and Delta have to honor their agreement to get you where you're going--even if that means putting you on another airline at their own cost.

You can lessen your chance of booking a flight that may be delayed next time around.

If your flight is delayed or canceled for reasons other than weather, the airline may make you wait some hours for its own next flight to that destination. "Talk to the lead agent at the gate and cite Rule 240," advises travel expert Peter Greenberg. Rule 240 requires an airline to put a delayed passenger on the next available flight, even if it is on another airline. "The airlines don't like to do it because then they don't get the revenue from the passenger. But it's a government rule," he says.

After a flight is cancelled, don't go back to the ticketing line and wait to rebook. Standing in line can delay you from getting on the next flight. Instead, if accessible, use a computer or cell phone to make sure you're on the next flight out.

 Published 11-26-2012



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