Booking A Flight In a Time of Uncertainty

Let’s face it. It sucks to have to book travel right now. Ok, it clearly sucks to actually be an airline far more, but we’ve beaten that horse to death already. So why do I say it’s so bad to book? Uncertainty.

With my wedding coming up in October, there are a ton of flight arrangements that need to be made. There are showers, receptions, and more, and they all require family members hopping on aircraft to criss-cross the country.

Now, I know fares are high. That’s fine. I have no complaints about that at all. In fact, I’d complain if they weren’t. But if I buy a ticket, I want to make sure that flight will actually go. Unfortunately, that’s not something that we can really rely upon as much these days.

I started thinking about this when JetBlue pulled their LAX service before it even started. Now just about every other airline has decided to reduce capacity, so buying a ticket is like a game of chance. Will your flight still be there when it comes time to travel?

So, I’ve tried to put together some pieces of advice on how to best position yourself to have your flight actually exist when you go to travel. Here are my somewhat feeble thoughts. Sorry I don’t have anything more substantial, but everything is so fluid right now that it’s tough to really know how to deal with this best.

  • Fly During Busy Times – That 8am flight to Chicago isn’t going away, but maybe that 6a or 10p flight will. When airlines look to cut flights, you’ll generally see it happen at off peak times. Sure, the flip side here is that the peak times will cost more, but that’s the price you’ll pay.

  • Don’t Fly Northwest or Delta – Yes, this is being pretty harsh. And yes, I’m actually flying Northwest in August, so why do I say not to fly them? Well, they’re merging, and though their pleas to Congress have stated that they won’t be cutting service, I think that’s a load of crap. My guess is that flights will be cut, and smaller hubs will be shrunk significantly, regardless of what they say now. They’ve even started to hint about it. So, if you’re booking very far out, you might want to keep that in mind. Even if the merger were approved tomorrow, I wouldn’t expect major cuts to begin until after the summer. If you do end up flying on these guys (or any airlines that decide to merge), at least try to avoid marginal hubs like Cincinnati and Memphis for your connections. Those will likely see the greatest impact, I’d think.

  • If You’re in Denver, Fly Southwest – As we’ve seen often over the last few months, Southwest is hell-bent on kicking Frontier out of Denver. So, they’re actually adding flights instead of cutting them. To be fair, they aren’t really doing much cutting elsewhere in the system either, so they might be a good one to book in general. Then again, what they’ve done so far isn’t necessarily an indicator of how they’ll behave in the future.

  • Don’t Book Too Far in Advance – The easiest thing to do is wait until it’s closer to your travel time before booking. When flights get cut, there will be some advance notice, so if you’re traveling within a month, you should be fine (unless you were flying JetBlue to LAX, I suppose). I know this flies in the face of conventional wisdom, and yes, you’ll have to pay for more this privilege, but it will give you more certainty.

  • Keep Your Fingers Crossed – If you can’t drive, there’s really not much else you can do but keep your fingers crossed and hope that your flight goes. I know I make this sound like every flight is at risk, and that’s not the case. I’d like to think that I’m overstating the possibilities here, but it’s better to think about these things beforehand. The good news is that if flights get cut, you’ll be reaccommodated on another flight on that airline, but it may not be as convenient as you’d like.

It’s a tough time to be a traveler right now. So, just be patient and hope that your flight doesn’t get cut. What other tips do you have out there?

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