A Look At The State Of Air Travel In America

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Heard On The Morning Show
O'Hare International Airport in Chicago
Travelers walk through terminal 3 at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016. Nam Y. Huh/AP Photo

A record 28.5 million people are projected to fly on U.S airlines from the weekend before Thanksgiving through the Tuesday after. We discuss what travelers can do to make their experiences as smooth as possible. We also look at recent developments in the airline industry, including a proposed airline passenger “bill of rights,” the collection of passenger data to enhance customer service, and more.

According to Airlines for America, Sunday, Nov. 26 will be the busiest day of the Thanksgiving break with nearly 2.9 million people taking to the skies. Thanksgiving Eve is expected to be the second busiest. The organization attributes the rise in travelers to cheaper flights.

U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., introduced legislation last week that would require airlines to provide passengers with a one-page document detailing various policies. It would cover involuntary bumping, lost or damaged baggage, compensation for flight cancellations or delays and what happens when a traveler is disabled or injured.

Airlines are collecting more and more customer information to better serve individual passengers. For example, they can issue a personal apology to the person whose previous flight was delayed for hours. They can also make sure to have plenty of a very frequent flier’s preferred drink on hand. However, airlines are also trying to figure out where personalized service becomes creepy instead of convenient. As an American Airline executive put it, “It’s a feel-good thing, but it’s also in the mind of the consumer, ‘If they know my birthday, what else do they know about me?’”

Will you be flying over Thanksgiving? In which areas do you think the airline industry is getting it right? Where is it largely failing? Would you welcome your data being collected to offer better, more personalized service or do you find that disturbing? Share your experiences and questions at 1-800-642-1234 or ideas@wpr.org. You can also tweet us @wprmornings or post on the Ideas Network Facebook page.

Featured in this Show

  • Travel Tips For Staying Sane On Your Way To Turkey Day

    If you’re going to be traveling this Thanksgiving holiday, get ready for chaos.

    Seriously: the airports and roadways around the country are going to be busier in 2017 than they have been in the past dozen years, according to AAA. More than 50 million Americans will be traveling 50 miles or more to get their turkey and stuffing this year. Almost 4 million of those travelers will be journeying via air, a 5 percent increase from last year.

    If you’ll be one of those 3.95 million taking a flight this week, Douglass Kidd, executive director of the National Association of Airline Passengers, has some traveling tips.

    Prepare for a long and difficult day

    Although there’s a chance everything will go smoothly — your flight will be on time, your children won’t get too grouchy, your bags won’t get lost — there’s also a chance that things won’t go so well, particularly if you’re traveling on Wednesday and/or Sunday, Kidd said.

    “All it takes is one plane to have a problem, and then that delay will cascade through the system,” he said.

    So with that in mind, he suggests you do everything you can to prepare yourself for sitting in the airport or on the plane longer than you might anticipate. Bring snacks (but no cheese — more on that later) including gum or hard candy to ease ear pain caused by changes in air pressure, wear comfortable clothes and shoes that are relatively easy to take on and off, and be as well rested as possible. Try to get to bed early the night before and not spend the whole evening packing, he said.

    If you’re traveling with children, now might be the time to relax rules about electronic devices because “no matter how short it is, it’s gonna be a long flight” with small children, he said.

    Have a tiny, essentials-only carry-on bag just in case

    Flights over Thanksgiving will be full, with more seats on the plane but not more room for carry-on luggage, Kidd said.

    You have no control over whether you have to check your carry-on luggage due to limited space, so it’s best to make sure you have a carry-on bag small enough to fit under the seat with your necessities (toiletries, a change of clothes, money and ID, etc.) That way, if you face delays at a connecting flight and have to stay overnight anywhere, you’ll be prepared.

    Carefully label checked bags

    For bags you do decide to check, or carry-ons large enough that you may have to check them at the last minute, have your name, address and contact information on the inside of the bag. That way, if the tag on the outside of your bag falls off or is accidentally torn off, it is still possible to get your things back, Kidd said.

    Do what the TSA tells you to do

    Things like taking your shoes off versus keeping them on varies from airport to airport since different airports have different screening technology, Kidd said. Just wait patiently in line and follow the TSA’s instructions, for the smoothest possible check in, he said.

    No peanut butter, cheese or anything else suspicious

    You can probably tell the difference between peanut butter and explosives, but TSA’s screening equipment can’t. With that in mind, you don’t want to pack peanut butter, cheese, yogurt, jam (unless it’s a very small amount, less than 3.4 ounces) or any other kind of gel- or paste-like food.

    If you need to bring baby formula, breast milk or baby food on your flight, there are special instructions to follow.

    You can find a comprehensive list of all the acceptable and prohibited foods on the TSA’s website.

    For next year’s Thanksgiving travel: avoid Wednesday and Sunday at all costs

    If you’re able to take off the time, your best bet is to leave the Monday before Thanksgiving and fly back the Monday after, Kidd said. It’s going to be significantly less busy, and you’ll probably save some money as well.

    If you can’t swing flying out the Monday before, Kidd suggested trying Thanksgiving morning since people generally fly out on Wednesday — although it depends where you’re flying from and to, he said.

Episode Credits

  • Kate Archer Kent Host
  • Bill Martens Producer
  • Douglas Kidd Guest

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