Airline Insiders Say Air Travel Is Going to Be a Nightmare All Summer. 10 Tips to Make It Less Awful

Research shows that if you skip your yearly vacation and work straight through the summer, you double your chance of depression. But a host of travel insiders (and reports from flyers) also say that this summer air travel is going to stay pretty depressing-inducing too. 

Thanks to staff shortages resulting from Covid-related layoffs and illness, as well as more than two years of chaos in the industry, peak travel season has so far been a nightmare of cancellations, delays, and general airport mayhem. And things aren’t likely to get better anytime soon. 

“Additional airline capacity and greater demand for air service by a travel-starved population will continue through at least September,” predicted McGill University logistics expert John Gradek on The Conversation recently, adding that unless carriers take drastic action or inflation takes a big bite out of demand, “the congestion and delays will continue–and possibly worsen.”

So craziness is likely to continue until the fall at least. Is there anything you can do besides stay home? (And who wants to stay home after being locked in the house the last two years?) Unless you’re an executive at Delta or JetBlue there’s not much you can do to guarantee a smooth flight this summer, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take action to try to minimize the headaches and maximize the joy of your summer travel. 

Minimize headaches 

Experts approach this question from a couple of different perspectives. First, the logistical. As my com colleague Bill Murphy Jr. pointed out in his newsletter Understandably recently, flight attendants have a front row seat to the nation’s air travel snarls and some are offering tips to travelers to minimize the pain. One, Kristie Koerbe, posted this advice about how to fly this summer:

  • Avoid flying if you can. If your trip is less than seven hours by car, then for all that’s good and holy, DRIVE, insists Koerbe. 

  • Download the airline’s app. “You can do everything on it,” she says, “and it sure beats waiting in the long line to talk to an agent! Trust me — usually these apps will tell you a flight is canceled before the crew even knows!” 

  • Fly MUCH earlier than you have to. Koerbe says she already has witnessed plenty of tears this summer as people missed weddings and graduations because of cancellations. If you have to be somewhere at a specific time, spring for a flight at least a day before you have to arrive and “have a glass of wine and stay in a hotel, enjoy your night not being stressed while everyone else misses their events.” 

  • Buy direct from the airlines. That way you’ll have more leverage to negotiate if you run into trouble. 

Maximize joy 

All of this advice is no doubt extremely sensible, but it’s also only part of the equation. You want to minimize logistics-related misery on your trip, but you also want to maximize joy. And for that you don’t need a flight attendant but an expert on human psychology. 

Dan Pink is the author of several best-selling books on motivation and the quirks of human behavior. In a quick video shot atop a landmark in Copenhagen, Denmark, Pink recently offered a quick burst of tips to really get the most out of traveling to a new place, particularly abroad. Sure, you should hit the local tourist hotspots, but if you really want to get a feel for how the locals live, he recommends you do the following

  • Visit the highest place you can find. This tip is why Pink is standing atop Copenhagen’s Round Tower. Not only is the view from such places beautiful, they will also allow you to survey the broad sweep of a city and understand more broadly how neighborhoods connect and the whole thing is put together. 

  • Take public transport. Whether it’s a bus, a tram or a subway, rising with the locals will give you “a sense of the rhythm of the place” and “the daily life of the people that actually live there,” Pink insists. It’s also usually an easier, greener, way to get around. 

  • Go to a grocery store. Pink offers this suggestions while holding up a bag of Danish fish, which unlike their Swedish candy cousin are apparently salty. Foreign grocery stores are chock full of such finds, according to Pink, and you’ll miss out on plenty of local delicacies (and amusing oddities) if you don’t spend some time wandering the aisles of a local supermarket. 

Come back relaxed 

You made it to your destination and you mined every moment of joy you could from your time there, now the last hurdle awaits — coming back feeling like you don’t need a vacation from your vacation. Here on we’ve got expert tips on that too, including: 

  • Take at least a week. Researchers have actually determined that eight days is the ideal length for vacation relaxation. I’m not going to argue with you if you do more, but if at all possible don’t do less. 

  • Minimize re-entry shock. Maybe this means giving yourself a day to unwind at home before returning to the office. Maybe it means proactively delegating as much as you can before you leave. Maybe it means taking the nuclear option suggested by one VC and setting an out-of-office warning correspondents you’ll just be deleting all the email you received while you were away. But whatever steps work for you, take them. 

  • Treat yourself upon your return. “Plan an activity during your first few days back that’s a little out of your ordinary routine, like a nice dinner out during the middle of the week,” Oklahoma State University professor Teri Bourdeau has suggested. The idea is to ease your way back into normal life and keep that vacation high going just a bit longer. 

Is all this enough to make your travel go smoothly this summer? Probably not. So expect disruptions, leave plenty of extra time, stock up on patience, and come armed with strategies to make the most of your time away, and you’ll hopefully unwind and enjoy despite travel industry chaos. 

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