What to Do if Your Holiday Travel Doesn't Go as Planned

We smell trouble in the air

Snow Storm Snarls Air Traffic From Chicago To East Coast
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While there are many reasons we’re incredibly grateful that travel is returning, there’s one thing we’re certainly not looking forward to: the crowds during holiday travel.

According to AAA, Thanksgiving travel is pretty much back in full force, with 53.4 million Americans traveling for the holiday—a 13 percent jump compared to last year.

“This Thanksgiving, travel will look a lot different than last year,” Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel, said in a statement. “Now that the borders are open and new health and safety guidelines are in place, travel is once again high on the list for Americans who are ready to reunite with their loved ones for the holiday.”

While that might not seem like the most significant increase, consider this: last year, the vast majority of Thanksgiving travelers drove, but this year, AAA predicts that air travel will be up 80 percent as compared to 2020. So, if you’re planning on flying somewhere for the holidays, be prepared for some potential chaos.

We’ve seen airlines run into major scheduling problems several times this year already. In June and July, American Airlines canceled 1,000 flights, stranding passengers across the country. Then Spirit had a similar meltdown in August, and Southwest followed in October.

“Many of these issues can be boiled down to staffing shortages across the industry, and so there’s certainly the potential for there to be a similar situation during the busy holiday season, when we’re anticipating a surge in demand,” The Points Guy senior travel editor Melanie Lieberman told TripSavvy. “Airlines are working to remedy this, but travelers should be patient and also safeguard their travel plans in every way possible.”

The best thing you can do is plan ahead for disruptions.

For starters, consider buying travel insurance or making your bookings with a credit card that includes coverage for trip delays or cancellations. But here’s the catch—you need to check the fine print to see what’s actually covered by your plan. You should also look into making flexible reservations for flights, hotel rooms, and car rentals, so if you’re unable to make your booking, you can get a refund or credit.

Then, consider booking travel for as early in the day (or week) as possible. “Booking the first flight out is still an easy way to reduce the risk that a cascade of delays or cancellations will affect your flight,” said Lieberman. 

And finally, be sure to warn your loved ones that holiday travel may be difficult this year to temper expectations if you can’t make the family dinner.

Now, if the worst were to happen, and you find yourself stranded due to a canceled flight, make sure you’re familiar with your rights regarding compensation, whether that’s a total refund, meal vouchers, or a hotel stay. Typically you’ll find such information in the fine print.

Most importantly, remember to be as nice as possible to the customer service agent you’re reaching out to—remember, they likely had nothing to do with the delays or cancellations. “Airlines aren’t required to rebook you on another airline, but this is when it never hurts to politely ask. In fact, it never hurts to see what an airline is willing to do to compensate for a cancellation or severe delay, but the key here is to be patient, polite and to be sure you have a backup plan in case the airline is not able to accommodate you,” said Lieberman.

Hopefully, the industry is prepared for the boom in travelers over the holidays, but anything can happen, and it’s best to be prepared.

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  1. AAA Newsroom. "Buckle Up: Thanksgiving Travel to Rebound Almost to Pre-Pandemic Levels." November 9, 2021