Fewer flights mean shorter wait times this holiday travel season
Planes will be fewer and fuller this holiday season. Airlines are cutting flights, making seats harder to find. And winter storms could exacerbate the problem.
Seattle Times travel writer
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Air travelers can expect fewer crowds at airports, shorter waits in security lines and a better chance of arriving at their destination on time this holiday season.
But with fewer planes in the air, snow or ice storms could cause more headaches than usual.
About 9 percent fewer passengers are expected to fly between Thursday and Jan. 7, the Air Transport Association reports, but airlines are also cutting their schedules.
The result: fewer but fuller flights.
The upside is that airports should be less-congested. Wait times at security checkpoints at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport are averaging under 20 minutes most times, and airlines have been improving their on-time arrivals and departures.
"Overall, the U.S. air-travel system is operating better than last year," said Jeff Kennedy of Portland-based Conductive Technology, producers of FlightStats.
But with fewer flights, it could be hard to find a seat on another flight if yours is canceled.
"The big wild card will be weather," Kennedy said.
If severe weather hits any of the key hubs such as Chicago, Dallas or Atlanta, he predicted that stranded travelers are likely to have to wait hours or even days for a seat.
Sea-Tac officials expect the number of passengers there to decline slightly from last year, reflecting a nearly 7 percent dip in daily departures compared to December 2007. The busiest days will be this Friday, with 98,000 passengers expected at Sea-Tac, and Saturday, Dec. 27, with 95,000 projected.
Planes will average 90 percent full on the busiest days, according to the Air Transport Association. Travel will be easier if you plan ahead. A few tips:
• Check flight status several hours in advance. Call your airline or set up flight alerts at www.flightstats.com.
• Get to the airport two hours before your flight (three if traveling internationally).
• Use airport kiosks to print boarding passes, or print them at home. Bring a driver's license or other government-issued photo ID. Bring a passport if traveling abroad, including to Canada and Mexico.
• Airlines frequently overbook at holidays. The usual practice is to first ask for volunteers to give up their seats. Then passengers might be bumped involuntarily. To avoid this, check in as early as possible.
If you're placed on a substitute flight scheduled to get you to your destination within one hour of your original arrival time, you're not entitled to compensation.
If the delay is one to two hours (between one and four hours on international flights), airlines must pay you an amount equal to your one-way fare, or a maximum of $400, up from $200 last year. If the delay is more than two hours (four internationally), the compensation doubles.
Details at http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov.
• Know your airline's new rules and fees for checking bags. Most now charge $15 each way for checking one bag, $25 for a second on domestic flights. See www.smartertravel.com for guide to bag fees.
• Don't overpack. Fees are hefty for oversized or overweight bags.
• Don't pack valuables in checked luggage.
• Pack gifts unwrapped so they can be inspected by security.
• Pack carry-on liquids in a quart-sized, resealable plastic bag, one bag per passenger with liquids of no more than 3 ounces in each container. See www.tsa.gov for what's allowed.
• If you're carrying medically necessary liquids in containers larger than 3 ounces, use the TSA's new "family lane" at Sea-Tac.
Carol Pucci: 206-464-3701 or email@example.com
20 dead in winter weather
Students went home for a snow day, stranded travelers waited at airports and drivers slid across icy roads in the second day of a bitter cold wave in much of the nation Tuesday.
Below-zero temperatures were forecast for today in at least 12 states in the Midwest and West.
More than 300 flights were canceled at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and about 50 were canceled at Midway Airport.
In northern Minnesota, Hibbing bottomed out at 32 below zero and International Falls was 28 below.
The weather was a factor in at least 20 deaths, 11 in traffic accidents.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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