Airport and flight delays: 10 key tips for surviving the current travel chaos

An hour and a half. That's how long it took me to leave Sydney Airport a few weeks ago. One and a half hours. Ninety minutes. To leave. Not to check in and go through security and board a flight. Just to pick up my bag and jump in a car and go.

It was raining, so my plan to escape with my kids from the back row of the plane straight out the rear door was foiled. We were the last people to get off. Then we had to wait for our baggage (which, to Virgin Australia's credit, did eventually turn up). And then we stepped out into the mother of all traffic jams, absolute gridlock, which didn't move a centimetre for an eternity. Nightmare.

Welcome to travel in this post-mid-pandemic age. It's wild out there. It's hard. Airlines are struggling, through a mixture of bad luck and bad decisions. Airports are crazy. Luggage is being lost. Flights are being cancelled. Queues are ridiculous. Oh, and you could catch COVID-19. And this is happening all around the world.

But we still want to travel. So the question is, how do you alleviate the pain?

Use a travel agent

This depends on where you're going and how complex your travel plans are. However, if you don't fancy the idea of sitting in some foreign airport trying to tangle with local airline systems and overworked staff while desperately attempting to rebook that cancelled flight, then I would advise having a travel agent in your corner, and on the end of the phone.

Check on-time performance

Not all airlines are created equal, particularly in these pandemic-affected times. Some have been performing better than others, with fewer flights cancelled and better on-time performance. If you're flying domestically, you can check those statistics at this Australian government website. You can find information on American airlines here. And similar databases exist worldwide. Worth checking into before you make a booking.

Avoid flying

Here's an idea: just avoid flying altogether. Avoid all the queues, the cancellations, the close proximity to hundreds of people of questionable health, and instead take another form of public transport (train, bus, ferry), or your own car. Of course, not all holidays will allow this, but it's certainly worth considering.

Take PT to the airport

OK, so you have to fly. My suggestion, particularly for airports such as Sydney and Brisbane with a decent train connection, is to use those trains instead of driving or catching a taxi or Uber. I would have been out of Sydney Airport in about 20 minutes a few weeks ago, had I used the train (rather than sit in a massive traffic jam). If you're travelling at a peak time, this is definitely the way to go.

Get there early

I've seen domestic airports around Australia recently in all sorts of states, from completely empty to absolute chaos. The trouble is, you don't really know what you're going to get, and it's worth taking some of the stress out of the air-travel experience by just turning up early. Give yourself at least an hour for domestic flights – more if you're checking in luggage. Arrive three hours before an international flight. There's no point making this whole thing harder for yourself.

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Take only carry-on

You've read the horror stories. Airlines deliberately leaving baggage behind; flights taking off with no luggage whatsoever; bags going missing for days; mishandled baggage numbers skyrocketing worldwide. The obvious solution is to travel with carry-on baggage only. That won't always be possible, but if there's some way you can make it through your travels with only 7kg of gear, you should absolutely do that.

Use a baggage tracking device

23 June 2022, Hamburg: Numerous suitcases are stored in the baggage claim area. Hundreds of suitcases, bags and baby carriages are still piled up in the baggage claim area of the airport and only find their owners after days. According to the airport, this is so-called rush baggage, which arrived in Hamburg on a later flight than the passenger. Photo: Jonas Walzberg/dpa (Photo by Jonas Walzberg/picture alliance via Getty Images) Getty image for Traveller. Single use only. xxluggagetracker

Baggage delays are surging around the world. Photo: Getty Images

If you do have to check luggage on your next flight, then you should get yourself a tracking device for each bag, so you have some sort of idea of where in the world they happen to be at any given time. For Apple users, the AirTag is an affordable way to go. Another option is the Tile Pro, which again is very affordable, and works well using Bluetooth and QR code technology. Read more here

Have a contingency plan

This, again, is good for peace of mind. You just need to know what you'll do in the case of things going wrong. One of your flights is late and you miss a connection – what's your plan? Your luggage doesn't turn up for a few days – again, what's your plan? You get COVID-19 while you're away and are forced to isolate and reschedule some travel – what's your plan? It pays not to have to do this thinking on the spot.

Get boosted, carry meds

COVID-19 is out there, friends, and you as a traveller stand more chance than most of catching the bug. The first thing to do is ensure you're up to date with vaccinations and boosters, as that's the best protection against severe illness. Then, have a plan of action in case you contract the virus, and carry basic medication, including painkillers, throat lozenges and hydration tablets.

Have good insurance

Buy insurance, and make sure it's good. Buy it early, as soon as you've booked. Make sure it covers you in the case of cancellations or delays. Ensure you're covered for COVID-19 and the associated disruptions. Be certain that any valuables in your luggage are included. And then wish yourself luck.

Have you travelled in the last few months? What was your experience like? What are your tips on making the experience as painless as possible?

Email: b.groundwater@traveller.com.au

Instagram: Instagram.com/bengroundwater

Twitter: twitter.com/bengroundwater

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