How to avoid many problems when travelling by air in these difficult times…

In recent times, we have reported several times about cabin crew or security staff strikes, cancelled and delayed flights, chaos in airports, lack of staff, and so on. We have asked former Brussels Airlines spokesman Geert Sciot for his advice on what to do in this difficult period for air travel. Here is what he has to tell us.

Geert Sciot: Over the past few days, I have been confronted with several painful travel stories from friends with cancelled flights, airport and airline strikes, missed connections due to delays, long queues at security, and so on and so forth. They then come knocking on my door as a former spokesperson and ask what they can / may / must do. It is becoming a very difficult ‘summer of travel’ for those who want to take the plane and the end of the travel suffering is not yet in sight. Here is my advice as a former aviation employee.

There are many reasons why there is so much traffic this summer. Covid-19 is not completely over and aviation personnel are still regularly absent due to illness. In addition, many staff members have left the aviation sector during the pandemic and as a result, there are shortages in almost the entire chain (ground services, security, passport control, flight crews, technicians…), in recent weeks Belgian staff have moved to foreign companies with better job prospects, and last but not least, airlines didn’t anticipate such a big rush towards the plane when they put together the summer schedule for 2022 last fall…

  • If you are going to book a flight: choose a flight that departs in the morning. Flights departing from Belgian airports in the morning are usually little or not at all delayed, because the plane starts its first flight of the day after having spent the night in Brussels. It is also the first flight of the working day for the crew. The later in the day your departure time, the greater the risk of delay because planes operating intra-European flights usually have two to three return flights and crews usually do too. Later in the day, the chance that there will be accumulated delays or that crews will be out of duty time due to delays from previous flights and that your flight will be cancelled is much higher. Hence, the earlier you leave in the day, the higher the reliability…
  • The chance that a flight to a business destination or to a European capital will be cancelled is much higher than a cancellation to a typical holiday destination such as Crete or Mallorca. Airlines prefer to cancel flights to destinations that can be reached on the same day with flight alternatives. But there are exceptions.
  • Try to book direct flights as much as possible and avoid transfers at other airports. Transfers with only an hour between flights are especially risky this summer due to the many delays. Know that in the past few days in Europe, on average, only 1 flight out of 3 flew on time. The chance that you will miss a connection due to a delayed flight is therefore not small. If you still have to transit on a foreign flight, look for flights with a minimum of 2.5 hours transfer time. This is more than appropriate these days, especially in major airports such as Frankfurt, London Heathrow and Amsterdam Schiphol.
  • If you absolutely must be at your destination at a certain time (e.g. departure of a cruise or tour, funeral, important meeting) then travel a day earlier. There are no certainties this summer.
  • Try to do as much self-check-in as possible. That saves you time. Many airlines and handling companies are struggling with staff shortages in their ground services, which means that you sometimes have to queue at the check-in counters for a long time. In any case, go to the airport more than 2 hours before the departure of your flight because there is a line at both check-in and security.
  • Everyone who has to pass the security check on the day of departure already knows that you are not allowed to have metal in your pocket, otherwise, the alarm will beep at the detection gate. So you can already avoid leaving, for example, coins, keys, etc. in your pockets… Nevertheless, more than half of the passengers still have to look for metal when they are at the gate. That search can easily take half a minute. Can you imagine how much time can be saved at the security check if every passenger already removes metal from trouser pockets or jackets beforehand? By the way, you can also take off that belt when you are queuing up at security. You really don’t have to wait until it’s your turn at the detection gate… Another 15 seconds saved! If you know that more than 30,000 passengers have to pass through those gates in Brussels on peak days, those seconds count.
  • Travel with hand luggage if possible because there is a lot of missing checked-in luggage. If you do have to check in luggage, make sure you have enough clothes in your hand luggage to ‘survive’ the first few days without your checked luggage. You never check in medicines and always take them in hand luggage. Stick to the hand luggage rules. Many boarding delays are caused by passengers not following the rules regarding dimensions/number of pieces… Always put your backpack under your seat so that the hand luggage compartment has enough space for trolleys. A backpack can easily go under the seat, a trolley cannot. If 100 backpacks are pushed into the luggage rack instead of under the seat then there is a lack of space … Simple and logical but oh so often forgotten leading to delay.
  • If the airline cancels your flight shortly before departure, you are often entitled to compensation. Except in the case of force majeure. These compensation rules are laid down in the so-called European Regulation 261/2004. Be sure to check this regulation if you are the victim of a cancellation. The airline always has a duty of care obligation that includes meals/hotel accommodation and assistance with booking an alternative flight. Do not rely on companies that are supposed to help you with your complaint, but charge a hefty fee for it. It’s not necessary. If there is a right to compensation, anyone who takes the time to formulate a complaint has the same chance of receiving that compensation as that company…
  • Last but not least: be friendly to the staff on duty. Even if a problem arises. These people are simply doing their job and are already having a very hard time due to the lack of staff, both physically and emotionally. Over the past few weeks, I repeatedly witnessed passengers yelling, cursing and threatening them… If you have to experience that for a whole day as a check-in clerk, believe me, sooner or later you’ll give up …

Aviation24.be is grateful to Geert Sciot for that useful set of advice.

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