8 lessons from 2022 travel meltdowns to use on your holiday trip

Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, updated with new information.

There have been some busy holiday travel periods marred by cancellations and delays over the past year. However, since carriers have made some changes in recent months, there’s hope Thanksgiving and Christmas 2022 travel might look far better than the holidays last year — and even holiday travel earlier in 2022, like Memorial Day weekend.

Demand is already heavy as Thanksgiving approaches. Last month airlines saw some of their busiest days dating back to the start of the pandemic — and that was without a major holiday.

However, amid warnings earlier this year that air travel won’t improve until 2023, there are some lessons we learned over the summer you might want to keep in mind as you prepare to head to the airport for your holiday flight.

flight at sunrise

Consider arriving a day early

Your Thanksgiving travel plans are likely set in stone already, but if you’re still holding off on booking Christmas flights, consider giving yourself a bit of extra time to work with.

If there’s a can’t-miss family celebration or another event you’re hoping to make, any disruption — from icy weather to mechanical problems to airline staffing challenges — could throw a wrench in your plans. On top of that, with the airlines flying thinner schedules to ensure staffing can meet demand, planes are likely to be full. This means if you run into a cancellation, airlines may not have a spot for you on the next flight.

Padding your travel schedule to arrive a day early could be critical to ensuring a hiccup in your itinerary doesn’t derail your entire trip.

Stay updated on airport news

Keep an eye on the social media feed for the airport you visit. This can be a good way to clue yourself into potential challenges you could face along your trip.

Whether it’s an early warning to reserve a parking spot in advance because availability may be limited or a notice about some sort of operational issue at the airport, these messages will usually end up on the airport’s Twitter or Facebook feed.

This goes for major airports both in the U.S. and internationally.

We’ve also discussed how the Transportation Security Administration app can help you get an early sense of the type of wait you might encounter at the security checkpoint.

travelers tsa line tampa airport
Summer travelers wait in line at a TSA checkpoint at Tampa International Airport (TPA) on July 12, 2022. SEAN CUDAHY/THE POINTS GUY

Learn US Department of Transportation policies

Make sure you know your travel rights as outlined by U.S. Department of Transportation policies – a major focus of the department of late. It has rolled out a new website that lays out passenger rights.

One key right to keep in mind: You’re entitled to a refund if your trip is canceled or significantly delayed and you ultimately choose not to fly.

It’s also important to know what the airline should reimburse you for when it comes to hotel stays, food and ground transportation due to a major disruption within the airline’s control.

Also, bookmark the TPG points and miles valuations page so you can do the math to figure out what to choose if the airline offers you a choice of cash or miles for your trouble.

aa plane at jfk
An American Airlines plane sits at the gate at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in July 2022. SEAN CUDAHY/THE POINTS GUY

Watch the weather at key hubs

If the weather looks clear where you are — and at your destination, for that matter — you can still run into trouble even if you haven’t seen a drop of rain or snowflake.

Over the summer, we repeatedly saw how a storm system in New York or Florida could snarl traffic along the entire East Coast since so many key airline routes go through those corridors.

If you’re traveling from Miami International Airport (MIA) to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD) on American Airlines but New York and Washington — both cities with key American hubs — are experiencing bad weather, it’s possible that residual effects could disrupt your itinerary.

Keep a close eye on the weather in your origin city, destination and connecting city, but also stay generally aware of bad weather events at regional hubs for your airline. It could give you an early sense that trouble is on the horizon for your schedule.

rainy plane window

Know your way around your airline’s app

On way too many occasions this summer, my airline’s app came in handy as I ran into cancellations and delays. However, I rarely called customer service, and I never stood in one of those incredibly long lines to talk with a customer service representative at the airport.

By using the airline’s app, you can often rebook yourself on a new flight in a matter of seconds. You may even be able to make multiple changes if the first flight you find isn’t ideal. (Still, you should try to book the first thing you find that at least somewhat works with your schedule because even that may quickly disappear).

When there are mass flight disruptions, it may be challenging to find a new flight that’s convenient, but the app can save you a lot of time waiting on hold or in line.

You can also use the airline’s app to spot early signs of trouble, such as when your flight’s incoming plane is running into a delay that is likely to affect your flight downstream.

crowd at laguardia
A busy day at a gate inside New York’s LaGuardia Airport (LGA) Terminal B, amid flight cancellations and delays in June 2022. SEAN CUDAHY/THE POINTS GUY

Have a backup lounge

The overcrowding issues at lounges that began to manifest before the pandemic certainly did not disappear in 2022. These issues can be particularly troublesome on days when mass flight disruptions leave many travelers stranded in airports.

For that reason, you could face a wait to get into a lounge during your trip which — depending on the length of your layover or departure time — may make it impossible to wait or generally not worth waiting.

This can mean having to brave the airport concourse with most other travelers for a preflight meal or drink.

Keep in mind that some credit cards may give you alternative options for lounge access. For instance, cardholders of The Business Platinum Card® from American Express can access Centurion Lounges, Priority Pass lounges and – if they’re flying Delta Air Lines – Delta Sky Clubs.

Like many aspects of travel in 2022, having a backup plan goes a long way.

Consider AirTags or try not to check a bag

From mountains of luggage in Europe to lost bags during disruptions at domestic airports, the rocky summer for air travel included nightmare scenarios for many travelers when it came to luggage.

suitcases all over airport

Particularly when there are cascading delays and cancellations affecting many flights, the luggage situation can start to be a mess and your bag could get left behind. This is especially true when your itinerary changes.

The best way to ensure your bag is with you when you land is to pack everything in a carry-on bag. This means you’ll have to make sure the contents of your bag are compliant with TSA 3-1-1 rules, that your bag size is compliant with airline carry-on policies and that your ticket allows for a full-size carry-on.

We’ve also seen just how important AirTags can be for locating your bag if it goes missing. At the same time, some travelers have learned the hard way that being able to locate your bag and getting it back can be two very different things. (One traveler had to fly back to Europe a second time to retrieve his family’s luggage.)

Still, it helps to know where along your journey your bag went missing.

Plan ahead for airport car rentals

ohare car rental line
A rental car line at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD). SEAN CUDAHY/THE POINTS GUY

While car rental companies continue working to increase their inventory after many companies sold off cars during the pandemic, things are still not entirely back to normal on the car rental front. From inventory to staffing issues to high demand, you can certainly still see long lines at car rental locations. It’s not exactly enjoyable to wait in a long line after a flight.

Plan ahead by ensuring you’re enrolled in your car rental company’s loyalty program to tap into skip-the-line privileges; you can use credit card elite status benefits with rental car companies to ensure you won’t have to stand with most of the other travelers looking to check out.

Bottom line

If there’s a silver lining from this summer’s many flight disruptions, it’s that travelers now know to be equipped with plenty of strategies if things go awry on future trips.

Since it could be 2023 before things truly get back to “normal,” know that a bit of planning could go a long way toward making your holiday air travel experiences as pain-free as possible.

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