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The Capitol Building in Washington, DC. In the coming week, they could hold the key to trip delay to millions of travelers around the world.Political junkies have been watching the situation leading up to the potential “sequester” these past weeks. I’ve been keeping an idle ear to it, as it’s something out of my control. That is, until now.

Outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood appeared at the White House Press Briefing on Friday to address how the sequester would affect travelers coming through the United States. If the sequester comes to life, anyone who gets on a commercial flight could be in serious trouble – and for a change, it wouldn’t be any airline’s fault.

“Sequester will have a very serious impact on the transportation services that are critical to the traveling public and to the nation’s economy,” Secretary LaHood announced at the press briefing. This lead into his outline of what could potentially happen if the sequester happens:

  • The Transportation Department would need to cut over $1 billion from their budget. Of those cuts, $600 million would come from the Federal Aviation Administration. This would force the furlough of every FAA employee one day per pay period.
  • Due to a cut in active air traffic controllers, trip delay in flights to major airports (such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, etc.) during peak hours would extend to up to 90 minutes. This could have a ripple effect throughout the national airspace, and cause delays for all other airports.
  • Preventative maintenance and quick repair of runway equipment may not be immediately possible (as it is now), further delaying flights as a result of damaged or worn equipment.
  • Once airlines see the potential impact of layoffs and delays as a result of equipment, a permanent impact on schedules are possible.

In addition to these issues, the reduced staffing would force the closure of air traffic control towers at many small airports throughout the United States, and cutting overnight staffing at control towers for 60 locations. The places that could see potential closure in the event of a sequester include: Hilton Head, South Carolina, Boca Raton, Florida, and San Marcos, Texas.

While many of these closures and furloughs will delay a lot of general aviation pilots and other aircraft, the impact that it will have on travelers cannot be denied. Much like the fiscal cliff situation at the beginning of the year, there’s now a renewed urgency to avoid this situation. But what if trip delay becomes even more of a normality than it is now? How do we prepare for more trip cancellation than ever? In the event we cross into the sequester, here are things that you can do to make sure you are cleared for takeoff:

  • Check-in 24 hours ahead of schedule
    By checking in early for your flight, you will be able to get the most recent information for your travels: anticipated take off, anticipated landing, and connection information. Many carriers also alert you to the type of aircraft you will be traveling on and the amenities on board. All legacy carriers offer this ability now – so there’s little reason not to at least go to the website, plug in your information, and see what you’re in for the next day. If you’re flying Southwest and want to get a decent seat, I’d upgrade this to “requirement” status.
  • Make sure your flight is going where you want – and know how to get back
    Right now, there is little change in how flights are going to and coming back from places. However, that might change if the sequester forces changes to air traffic (and ultimately creates trip delays) in the coming days. If you worry that your flight may be affected, then check your itinerary first online – as it may be updated with potentially different plans. If there’s no new information there, it’s acceptable to call the airlines and request more information to work through alternate changes.
  • Brace yourself for trip delay with more time and alternate plans
    If the sequester happens, you will probably find yourself with a bigger trip delay than before. And If that trip delay turns into a cancellation…who knows what could happen, right?
    In order to ensure you get to where you’re going, plan for additional time around your travels knowing that the growing trip delay issue could get bigger.  Add an additional day of travel if you can to both ends. If you know you need to be somewhere urgently (or you need to get home urgently), know all the schedules that could get you there and be prepared to suggest them if there’s the potential of a trip delay.

Nobody likes the threat of a trip delay – but it’s turning into a potential problem now that politics are stepping into the travel arena. Are you anticipating being affected by the sequester? Or do you think they will resolve it before it becomes a problem? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!


A lonely bag sits at the carousel waiting to be claimed by the owner. Have you considered what you would do if you had a baggage loss? This little yellow bag is sure worried about it.Linda in Customer Service and I chat on a daily basis. With the intertwining of our tasks at Travel Insurance Services, it’s a necessity. And please don’t think that I’m complaining about it — I truly enjoy our daily banter back and forth. But today, she completely disarmed me with a true story about her family.

Her family hails from a small town, where life moves a little bit slower. But they find ways to entertain themselves — like planning a church trip to Israel in the winter. All year they saved, made the deposits, and planned for the trip of a lifetime. Part of that trip included getting passports, preparing medication, and carrying currency with them.

Being the planning folks that they are, Linda’s parents carefully packed all of their medication and cash on their rolling carry-on bag — which seems like a logical place to put it while traveling. The only problem was that their first connection was on regional jets, which are not world-renowned for their overhead space. With this dilemma, they were asked by the airline to gate-check their bag through to their final destination. With no lock on their rolling bag, it was checked to Newark, and ultimately Jerusalem with cash and medication enclosed. Ten hours in Newark is a long time for those things to be sitting around unsecured. And offers the prime opprotunity for baggage loss or baggage theft, considerting all the valuables they kept inside. 

Lucky for Linda’s parents, this story has a happy ending to it as their bag arrived at its destination without the problems of baggage loss or baggage theft. And they throughly enjoyed their trip as they had intended to. But the experienced traveler in me has to ask: what if they had experienced a baggage loss?

It isn’t uncommon for airlines to ask passengers to gate-check items, especially when there’s little room in the overhead compartments. And while baggage loss is becoming a less frequent  problem across common air carriers in the United States, baggage theft and loss are still problems for American travelers overseas.

So knowing that baggage loss and theft are problems for travelers going to foreign countries, how could Linda’s parents have taken better care of their luggage to make sure nothing happened to their items? Here’s how I would have approached the pre-flight packing:

Eggs in Many Baskets

  • First, when carrying valuables, I never pack them all in one bag. My passport usually goes in my insdie coat pocket or my personal item I carry onto the plane at the very least.
  • Second, cash is always secured on my person or on something that I can easily wear underneath my clothes — like a neck wallet or personal item belt.
  • Lastly, in the rare occasion that I need to go somewhere with medication, I always carry what I need in my personal item. In fact, the 3-1-1 rule works perfectly for what medications I need to carry on. If I need more than that, then the remainder gets checked through to my final destination. In a locked and secured bag.

Safe and Secure

  • I’ve already locked my checked luggage with a TSA approved lock — so why am I not doing the same thing with my carry-on bags? In the event that I do have to check a carry-on rolling bag, I can rest assured that it will arrive safe and untouched. And if that check turns into a baggage delay or baggage loss, I’ll be less worried about the contents of my bag. The small price of a lock is better to pay than the real cost of replacing all my goods.
  • Travel insurance for baggage loss. This is just one of its major selling points and situations like these are the reason to purchase insurance — especially when traveling internationally. If they had suffered a baggage loss, how would they replace that medication? How would they recoup their entire loss? A prime case for how travel insurance can help keep travelers moving forward, regardless of where they go.

My personal thanks goes out to Linda for letting me share this story with all you lovely readers out there. How do you make sure all your personal items get to where they’re going securely? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!


 

The Carnival Triumph as viewed from the shore. The current incident is a great reminder of the value of travel insurance.
Photo by: Seth J/Flickr

I’ve been reading all about the situation with the Carnival Triumph this past weekend. My thoughts are sincerely with them as they wait for assistance. According to the Carnival Cruise Lines website, they are expected to get back into port Thursday – making for several days without basic accommodations such as functioning toilets throughout the ship, hot food, and air conditioning in the core of the ship. While Carnival has pledged to refund the cost of the trip as well as a credit on a future cruise, I don’t know how far that would go.

In this situation, I agree with blogger Marshall Jackson and what he wrote on his blog. Cruise ships, just like airplanes, are machines that are prone to malfunction. But when malfunction happens, you have to deal with it and make the best of the situation.

The lithium battery issue on the 787 Dreamliner is an example of this: it’s entirely unfortunate that a malfunction happens that can totally mess up an otherwise great vacation. The important thing to remember is that everyone is safe and secure, and that no injuries have been reported as a result. Just like the battery malfunction is not going to stop me from getting on a Dreamliner once they get back in the air this year (I hope), this incident will not prevent me from going on a cruise sometime this year.

But this incident is going to make me consider how I prepare for my cruise vacation, and prepare for a situation like this. In this worst case scenario, there are several things that can be done in order to make life easier in an unforeseen event:

  1. Travel First Aid Kit
    A small first aid kit doesn’t take a lot of room and can be invaluable when it comes to surviving the trip.
    It can be as simple as a small bottle of pain relievers, bandages of various sizes, antibiotic ointment, and information to give to a doctor in case of emergency. With this small package, you would be surprised how far it will get you. Just make sure all of your medicine and ointment are less than 3 ounces and can fit in a 1-quart bag.
  2. Water Treatment System or Tablets
    This might sound a little extreme but when you’re stuck in a place with non-potable water, this can help you get a drink in a hurry. A small, UV light emitting device (like SteriPEN) can treat as small as a single glass of water, and kill viruses and bacteria in the water instantly. If you’re not planning to be in a remote place for long, water treating tablets are also a convenient way to make sure that you’ve got access to water wherever you go. But keep in mind that tablets have a waiting time for treatment and are meant to treat larger quantities of water (a liter or more). To get rid of the weird taste left behind, use a liquid water flavoring to drop in.
  3. Battery-Powered USB Charger
    In the event that you can’t charge your phone somewhere, a battery-powered backup charger can certainly save the day for your electronics.
    Just plug it in before your trip and use it as your regular charger while away. In the event that power is lost, the internal battery will give your phones and tablets the charge it needs to stay on when the lights go off.
  4. Emergency Contact Information and Travel Insurance Contacts
    In the event that you’re stuck somewhere – do people know how to get a hold of you? More importantly, do you know who to contact while you’re away? Can you remember the phone numbers for the five most important people in your life off the top of your head? Wherever you go, keep a list of emergency numbers on hand. Be sure to include: important family contacts, your carriers (air, land, or sea) and hotels, people who need to be contacted in the event of an emergency, and the nearest American Consulate (if you’re away from home). Also remember to keep the phone number of your travel insurance provider nearby – as they can assist you in the event of an emergency, such as making alternate arrangements when your travels are delayed or contacting family and employers when you’re stuck. I always keep this information written down in case my phone dies. It’s easy to remember when your phone has plenty of battery life. But if there’s no power in the phone…you can forget about accessing that information, and easily forget the numbers in the first place.

By being prepared for the worst, you can make the best of any situation. How do you make sure you’re prepared for a trip? Let me know how you get ready for the worst in the comments below!

(Ed. Note: No incentive was given to mention any product or service in this blog. Travel Insurance Services and its affiliated companies do not endorse nor guarantee any product or service mentioned in this or any blog. However, we sure would love to hear about your experiences with them!)


A US Airways plane goes in for landing over a crowded beach. If the US Airways-American Airlines merger moved forward, this might be the only way I'll get a view of these planes - mostly out of fear of trip delay.
Photo: Steve Heap / Shutterstock.com

The day is upon us. Sort of.

No, it’s not my birthday that I try so hard to ignore every year. It’s the day that US Airways and American might have settled on a merger. The Dallas Morning News, Slate, and Bloomberg are reporting that the merger is in the final stages of development and ultimate approval, with the official announcement expected around Valentine’s Day, due to a deadline set by the non-disclosure agreement (two airlines marrying on Valentine’s Day? How romantic!).

Personally, I welcome this news like I welcome a tetanus shot: it’s necessary for your health, but painful nonetheless. The truth is, this merger is probably the best method of survival for both airlines, and will open up many new ways to get places. But more than likely, the merger is going to hurt (in price hikes, trip delay, and trip cancellation, etc.), and it’s also going to be very irritating for the end traveler like you and me.

If the United-Continental agreement taught us anything, we’ve learned that merging is a very difficult process that takes a lot of focus to complete. It’s also taught us that the consumer ultimately pays more than the buying company, in the form of trip delays, trip cancellations, missed tickets, and mis-communicated ticketing policies.  Not to mention the fact that many frequent flyers and points collectors (like myself) will be left to figure out what to do with the points that will be transferred into one system or another. Or what to do when a decision to choose which alliance to become a member of is called into question.

At this point, it is prudent to stop and take a deep breath about the entire situation. Just because newspapers are reporting the deal is close doesn’t mean we’re looking at a merger until the official announcement is made. I’m not going to worry about what to do with all 30 of my Dividend Miles because of speculation. Besides, this is not the first time that US Airways has gone through a merger. Does anyone remember the last time this happened with America West Airlines?

But I am going to start preparing myself for more delays when riding with either of the two carriers. And I am going to start considering my options for status when it comes to airline alliances. Planning ahead now could save me a lot of headache in the future.

So what do we do now? Do we burn our miles today? Do we worry about getting places on time whily flying US Airways or American for the next 18-24 months? What will happen to my friend from my last mileage run, who has elite status on US Airways? The questions are endless! But today, I’m not going to worry about it. I will continue to plan my travel as it best suits my needs and mileage goals. I'll continue to be mindful of the increased chance of trip delay if this merger begins…but until an official announcement is made, I won’t let it govern my decisions. As that great American scholar Yogi Berra once said: “It ain’t over until it’s over.”

Will this potential merger change your travel habits? Will you reconsider who you will travel with? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!