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May 2013

This is a generic departure board that I found online. If you imagine the words 'Delayed' or 'Cancelled' beside any one of them, you could be at any airport in America this summer!May could quite possibly be one of the wildest months in the history of air travel.

Let’s forget about the confusion that the TSA’s new regulations on carry-on items is going to create in the already wildly inconsistent system (that won't be implimented anyways - but that's a blog for another time). This week, furloughs created by the sequester are going to take full effect on airports across the United States. This will force unpaid time off to most of the 47,000 Federal Aviation Administration’s full-time employees – including air traffic controllers. Broken down, this means that air traffic controllers will have to take one unpaid day off every other week until the end of summer.

Already, the loss of the additional help in the air traffic control tower has resulted in trip delays for many travelers:

  • NBC San Diego reports that flights were, on average, delayed three hours on Sunday.
  • CBS New York reports that delays of anywhere between 15 to 30 minutes are expected in the Big Apple’s three airports, with LaGuardia expected to be hit the hardest.
  • The Dallas Morning News reports that a trade group for U.S. based air carriers may be taking the FAA to court over the budget cuts.

Taking a look at the FAA’s Flight Delay Information website on Monday morning, the only airports showing significant delays are those in the New York Area: LaGuardia and Newark. By the afternoon, the delay warnings expanded to Baltimore and Charlotte as well. And United started warning their customers to expect long delays for those travelers going to Los Angeles.

For the frequent traveler, this creates a major problem. Not only do you have to arrive early for your flight to check baggage and find a way to manage through the security checkpoint, but now trip delay or trip cancellation are almost a certainty. How can you make arrangements at your end destination if you have no idea when you’ll be getting there? What’s worse, how do you tell loved ones or business associates that your plans are in flux because of items out of your control?

So how do you plan for the sequester cuts? And how do you make the most of getting through one of the most difficult travel situations in a while? Here’s how I plan on managing my travel:

1) Alternate Routes – Alternate Destinations
To every destination, there is an equal and opposite destination. Okay, so maybe that’s not exactly the rule, but the logic still applies. For every place that we want to go, there are alternate ways and routes to get there. Let’s say you’re flying to Southern California and you don’t want to get stuck behind a trip delay, try looking at the airports in greater LA, such as Ontario, Long Beach, and Santa Ana. Subsequently, there are other ways to get around New York as well. For instance, flying to Philadelphia or Washington, DC, and taking a train into the big city.

2) Off-Peak Travel Makes Easier Routes
The main times people plan to travel are through the weekends and surrounding them. If your plans are flexible, then it’s entirely possible to escape trip delay by traveling off-peak hours – such as mid-week (Tuesday through Thursday), and overnight. By planning your travels around lower-traffic times, you can better control your itinerary.

3) Skip the Airplane Entirely
In some situations, it may make more sense to skip the airplane entirely and find a different way to get to where you’re going. Is a three-hour trip delay worth it if you can get there directly on a six-hour car ride? Is train service an option instead of a flight? While it may take you longer to get there, you can skip problems out of your control.

This coming season of trip delay will not be a fun one. But with some planning and forethought about your travels, I have faith that you will be able to make it through. How do you plan on managing your travel this summer? Let me know how you plan on getting through in the comments below!

One of the things that we write about often on the Travel Insure blog is how to avoid the frustrations in travel. In some cases, it’s unavoidable – everyone has to go through the same TSA line in one form or another. In other cases – like international travel – you can make it easier with NEXUS and Global Entry. Now, it appears that the Government of Australia is also going to make it easier for American travelers visiting the country with the SmartGate System.

I caught wind of this from Johnny Jet’s blog and after reading into it, it looks quite brilliant.

Here’s how it works:

  1. If you are a U.S. Trusted Traveler (member of Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, or other Trusted Traveler program) and hold an ePassport (it’s the passport with the microchip inside), you can use the SmartGate system.
  2. Simply approach the SmartGate once you arrive at the airport, make your declarations on a touchscreen, and receive a SmartGate ticket.
  3. From there, approach the facial recognition kiosk, insert your ticket and hold still while the computer compares you to the picture on your passport. If everything checks out, you’ll pass through the gate, collect your luggage and finish your customs experience with an Australian Customs Officer.

I really like this new technology for a multitude of reasons. First, it cuts down on the stress of getting into the country after a very long transcontinental flight for trusted travelers. For the many law-abiding visitors entering the country, it makes getting through the system a lot easier. Additionally, if this trial system works, then I see a lot of potential for making it easier to get into other countries as well. This is something that I will be keeping an eye on in the near future.

Of course, there are things you’ll still need to do before you make the trip to Australia. In order to even set foot in the country, you will need to apply for a Visa ahead of time. If you don’t have your Visa approved before you make it to Australia, you can be returned to your home country very easily – on the next available flight, in fact. And if you’re not a member of one of the trusted traveler programs, then you’ll have to go through the long line with everyone else. But if you’re already a frequent traveler – especially to foreign countries – why wouldn’t you become a member of Global Entry? It gets you through Customs faster and may allow you access to TSA Pre✓™ which can get you through security a whole lot faster.

My thanks to Johnny Jet for sharing this – if you’re not reading his blog, you should! Are you planning on using this technology your next time to Australia? Let me know if this changes your travel plans in the comments below!