By Dimitra Lavrakas
Senior Voice Travel Correspondent 

A plague of travel difficulties to contend with

Protect yourself against despair and extra costs

 

March 1, 2023 | View PDF

Dimitra Lavrakas photo

Passengers grope through a blizzard to the Prudhoe Bay terminal. Upon takeoff, the pilot announced that there would be no more coffee or bathroom use as the water tank was frozen.

Thousands upon thousands of travelers have been stuck recently in transportation hell due to a number of problems. Whether it's weather, lack of airline employees, FAA system failures, it's a real bummer.

Stalled before even boarding

There is nothing more chilling for a traveler that to arrive at the airport and see "canceled" up and down a flight monitor.

That's what happened on Dec. 22, when a bomb cyclone hit the upper Midwest, shutting down 2,700 flights on Dec. 22 and 5,700 the next day.

And Amtrak also canceled dozens of trains through Christmas.

It was a mess and a deep disappointment for those eager to reunite with friends and family.

On Jan. 11, a Federal Aviation Administration SNAFU caused the agency to order that all departing flights be delayed.

The FAA later found out that the system failure occurred because contractors "unintentionally deleted files" on the alert system for pilots, and pilots were ordered not to take off without that warning system in place. More than 9,000 flights were delayed according to the agency.

FlightAware, a flight tracking service, reported that last year 20.4 percent of scheduled flights were delayed and 2.3 percent were canceled. Up from 2021, when 16.1 percent of flights were delayed and 1.5 percent canceled. In the first three quarters of last year, the U.S. Transportation Department received nearly 49,000 consumer complaints about air travel, an increase of 27 percent from the same period the year before and much higher than pre-pandemic levels.

For Alaskans, first and foremost, even getting out of Alaska is always weather-dependent - particularly if you're on a small airline coming into a hub like Fairbanks, Anchorage or Juneau, from remote villages and where airlines operate on VFR (visual flight rules).

And don't forget volcanic eruptions that also cut flights short of your destination or halt flights altogether.

What to do, how to cope

Downsize that checked bag and make it a carry on. Consider whether you really need an item or piece of clothing that you can replace or even borrow once you get to your destination.

Enroll in the U.S. Transportation Administration's Security PreCheck program where your passage through security will be a breeze. You can fill out an application online, but you will have to go to an enrollment center for fingerprinting and a background check. Centers in Alaska are located at, oh wait there's only one, in Anchorage at Ted Stevens International Airport, 4600 Postmark Drive, Anchorage. Open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Phone 907-271-6309, extension 4.

Mail things ahead. Going to a wedding, an anniversary or a birthday party? Mail the gifts so in case you don't make it they will.

Investigate alternative routes to your destination. Never mind renting a car - everyone else has already thought of that and there will be none available. Try seeing if there is a bus or a train to where you're going. Seriously, if you're elderly and have the time, wouldn't it be much more pleasant to take a train ride and not have to deal with airport security, small seats, bad food, screaming babies, wailing cats, or stinky tiny dogs? Let alone those gate changes-especially in Seattle where you have to take the Train To Nowhere to get to your next gate, and that may not be the last switch. My flight from Juneau to Seattle last year was canceled for no reason that the airlines cared to share and while everyone ran downstairs to rebook I went to the gate where a plane was leaving for Seattle, but had a 12-hour wait there for my next flight. But at least I was on my way. So keep your eyes and ears open for other flights that may get you closer to your destination and jump on them.

Dimitra Lavrakas photo

In 2009, Cleveland Volcano erupted as the author was flying from Fairbanks to Anchorage on the milk run from Utqiagvik. It was announced the plane would go no farther than Anchorage. Aircraft have accidentally encountered volcanic ash clouds and in some cases, jet engines have temporarily lost power.

Get insurance. I am as tight with a nickel as you are, but insurance has saved me more money than what I spent signing up for it. So if you do decide to book a flight, just spend the $12 or $24 to get insurance. You'll feel better and protected knowing that wherever you are you will be paid for your stay at a hotel.

Book through the airlines. While travel sites like Expedia, Kayak and Travelocity may get you a cheaper price, getting in touch with them when you're in trouble is sometimes difficult.

Become a member of Alaska Airlines Club 49 with the promise of two free checked bags and deals and specials sent to your computer's mailbox regularly. And as an extra bonus, "Freight for Less" offers Club 49 members $49 (plus tax) cargo shipping within the state of Alaska. Ship up to 100 pounds in up to two 35-gallon totes or sturdy shipping containers that do not exceed 20"x30"x15" each. Club 49 is for Alaskans only and is free.

Look ahead, be resilient and prepare for anything. Good luck traveling in the coming months.

 
 

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