With warm weather on the horizon, experts predict more travelers will take to the skies this summer. If you’re one of the many thinking about a vacation after two years of staying put during the pandemic, this spring might be the time to consider a summer travel deal and plan ahead.
Travel prep is especially important as airlines continue to respond to weather changes like ongoing wildfires and major disruptions like pilot shortages.
To help you get started, “Good Morning America” spoke with Natalie Houston, the airline employee behind the viral TikTok video offering “tips & tricks for delayed or cancelled flights.”
Houston, 33, works as a gate agent for an airline in Nashville, Tennessee, and is one-half of the duo behind “Adventures of Matt and Nat.”
Below are her top summer travel tips:
Book directly from an airline and use their app.
“If anything happens, we're able to help you a little bit more, like our hands aren't tied,” Houston said. “Sometimes we get into a reservation and we're like, ‘I'm so sorry. It's with a third party, there's nothing that we're able to do.’
“You will have to call customer support, which the lines are beyond crazy at the moment, to call to get help.”
Another hot tip? Houston tells customers to download the app of the airline they’re flying with, if one is available.
“The app is really helpful,” Houston said, noting that many offer features like airport maps and airport food options. “It gives you, the customer, more up-to-date notifications sometimes than we, as airline employees, will know.”
Use a flight tracker tool.
One of the most common questions Houston said she hears from customers is, “Where’s my plane?" She recommends everyone use a flight tracker tool like the Flight Aware website and app, which shows specific details like a map and where a plane has traveled from and the destination it’s scheduled to travel to.
“It's something that we use, something that pilots use, and it lets you know where your plane is in the sky,” Houston said.
“If you're flying out later that evening, I would always recommend checking in the morning because you can kind of see, 'OK, well there's four different flights that this plane is taking.' At any point, it could get delayed so you kind of already know, 'OK, everything's running smoothly. Everything's on time. My plane tonight should be leaving on time as well.' … It's not a guarantee but it kind of gives you just a little bit more insider knowledge on what was happening.”
Talk to the ticket agent or airline staff.
“If you've never flown before or if it's been like a long time since you've flown, always just tell the representative at the ticket counter,” Houston suggests.
“We are so much more inclined to guide you through the process because we just assume when you come up, that you've flown before. We don't want to act too pushy or guide you too much so when people say that, it's like, 'Oh OK, let me go through the steps,' so you're more comfortable … we’ll even upgrade your seat. We want this experience to be fun for you.”
Do your research.
Houston said one piece of advice she gives often is to look up an airline's fine print.
“I always tell people to Google ‘bill of rights’ or ‘contract of carriage.’ It just lets people know the compensation that you would receive if anything were to occur, maybe you're on the tarmac, or there's a cancellation or delay.”
Choose a direct flight and fly in the morning.
“Fly direct, if you can,” Houston recommended. “You have way less chances of getting delayed on a connection flight.”
“Try to fly out in the morning, if you can, because they can roll you over to the next flight, so if it's the last flight of the night, you're probably going to be either spending the night in the airport or in a hotel to catch the next flight, which is in the morning, so I would try to do as early morning as you possibly can because you have less chances of being delayed or canceled," she said.
Give yourself ample travel time.
If you plan on flying domestically within the U.S., Houston recommends arriving at your departing airport at least an hour and a half or two hours ahead of your flight, and give yourself even more time if you’re flying internationally.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) does not specify how much time in advance but does recommend that passengers “allow time for parking/shuttle transportation, airline check-in, obtaining a boarding pass and going through the security screening process, which includes screening of your carry-on bag.”
Houston also said to consider adding days in your itinerary to budget for any unexpected events, echoing a tip that Hopper economist Hayley Berg told “GMA” this week.
“I recommend, especially with summer travel right now, is that people fly the day before they have to be anywhere, so don't be flying out the morning of and you're leaving on your cruise that afternoon,” Houston said. “You need to be leaving at least the day before a wedding or something that's super important because you need a day of travel just in case of delays, cancellations.
”It does stink that you have to have another day off of work but I think that's what we're going to be looking at this summer, is a continuation of cancellation flights and delays, especially with weather.”
Get travel insurance.
“I also think travel insurance is a really big thing, especially for summer travel,” Houston said. “There's going to be so many people traveling this summer, way more than we’ve been used to the past two years … It helps even with delays and hotels and so, it's not just if you miss your cruise, it is anything in between from the time you start travel to the time you end travel. Anything in between that happens that wasn't planned, travel insurance will help take care of that.”