They say hindsight breeds insight. And since traveling for more than enough hours to circumnavigate the world over–despite it only being from Kuala Lumpur to Amsterdam–one might say that no truer words were ever spoken. Indeed, my nightmare of an experience with this season’s airport chaos (which included one cancelled flight, a 12-hour layover, one missing luggage and three hours at immigration) is one of many horror stories you might’ve heard since COVID’s international entry bans were lifted.
And the chaos might not end anytime soon due to the uncertainty of fuel prices, labour strikes, a shortage of personnel at airports, undertrained staff and a continued demand for travel. But instead of feeling discouraged, consider this your go-to guide for taking off while keeping your feet firmly planted on the ground.
Steer clear of the school holidays
With fuel prices reaching an all-time high in certain countries, it’s always worth noting its trickle-down effect when it comes to in-demand travel periods, especially if you’re planning on visiting some of Europe’s more popular summer destinations. In the United Kingdom, Heathrow’s passenger cap has resulted in a 100,000-a-day traveler limit, forcing multiple airlines to cancel flights. Other airports, such as Schiphol, have similar caps. However, if you must, journeying by train from a neighbouring vicinity is worth the extra mileage. Think Kuala Lumpur to Paris, via France’s Thalys from Rotterdam. Otherwise, consider booking your flight on a weekday (Tuesdays and Wednesdays are often cheaper than most) with a crack-of-dawn arrival time, which often equates to smaller crowds. Booking flights to smaller, regional airports is another option.
Use your miles
Given the US, UK and Europe’s strict travel policies, airport security in the post-pandemic age has proven itself to be daunting. As a result of labour shortage (with no thanks to redundancies made in previous years), queues can reach up to six hours in some instances. For the uninitiated, it helps to use up some of those miles for priority check-in, which allows for a fast track through various lanes prior to boarding. Otherwise, certain airlines (like Etihad) offer upgrades for a smoother experience prior to your journey. Bonus tip: check for code-sharing flights, which may just enable you to use those unattended miles from another airline.
Know your rights
The combination of mass vacations and industry complications often lead to two things: delays, and God forbid, flight cancellations. If you’re anything like me and recently had your flight canceled on your way to Europe or the UK, certain routes are claimable up to €600 or £520, even if you’re of different nationality. It also certainly helps to know your entitlements at the airport of departure in the event of such circumstances, which includes free drinks and meals, as well as accommodations for delays of more than a day. Airhelp.com does a great job at navigating these unchartered waters, with a no win no fee approach to all their legal undertakings.
Tag it along
Forget conventional luggage tags–Apple’s AirTag (or any other similar tracking device) is today’s undoubted MVP when it comes to the dreaded lost baggage scenario. Considering the lack of luggage handlers (which sadly, is the current norm) throughout the UK, US and Europe, a geolocator for all your precious belongings is a firm must-have. Any enthusiastic packer will appreciate its nifty size, while those antsy for their luggage’s arrival will revel in the AirTag’s real-time tracking mode. As someone who was recently caught in a three hour-long wait at immigration, this feature proved itself useful: not only did it lead me to my suitcase (complete with directions!), it also pinged me amid hundreds of other baggage waiting to be claimed.
Cabin only, when possible
For shorter trips, almost always go cabin only. It’s a sure-fire way to avoid any delays prior to boarding, but always be sure to avoid carrying liquids above 150ml, lest you feel the wrath of security officers rummaging through your personal effects. Bonus tip: vacuum bags are miracle workers when you need to pack a punch-load of foldables, and saves up much needed space for all other extras in your cabin-sized luggage. If all else fails, wearing 10 layers of clothes does the trick too… but what would I know? I’m just another disgruntled passenger who’s been through it all.
In the details
Some final touches for stress-free travel.