Make no mistake, traveling to and from Europe this summer is as bad as they say. In late May we flew on Delta from Charlotte to Paris, connecting through JFK and returning from Geneva. The destinations were as spectacular as we’d hoped. But getting there and back was a pain! Not only was every airport overcrowded, our out-bound flight was delayed for four hours and the first leg of our return flight (connecting through Amsterdam) was canceled—twice! You get the picture.
Here are a few tips on how to fly to Europe without the stress.
1. Simplify your logistics. Avoid the largest, busiest domestic airports, such as New York’s JFK. Big airports are super-crowded this summer and offer virtually no space for social distancing. (And don’t even think of entering a first-class lounge. These were packed like sardine cans even before the pandemic.) Our preferred airports these days are Washington’s Dulles or Newark’s Liberty International, where we have found transfers to be relatively easy. However, there are no guarantees, especially around holidays. Here’s an article from Reuters showing cancellations and delays for the major domestic airlines May 26 through June 29. The cancellation rate for that period was nearly double last year’s. And here’s the Misery Map by FlightAware—an animated graphic of cancellations in real time.
2. Take a direct flight to your foreign destination, if possible, to avoid changing planes in hectic airports like Heathrow, Gatwick, Charles de Gaulle, Frankfurt International, Amsterdam’s Schiphol, etc. This eliminates the possibility of missing a connection or enduring a long delay. If you must change planes in Europe allow ample time to make your transfer. (For more on the chaos in Europe this summer, read this Bloomberg article.)
3. “Double mask” in crowded airports and airplanes. You’ll soon get used to the extra layer and be thankful for the extra peace of mind.
4. Pack light. Due to staff shortages at the airports, luggage is being lost in Europe at an alarming rate, and it can take days for airlines to sort it all out. If you’re changing planes, follow the experts’ advice and take only hand luggage. (A friend of ours recently flew to Istanbul via Munich. Guess what? Her luggage was lost. In fact, many other passengers on her flight lost their luggage, too.)
5. Make sure you have an airline hotline or emergency number to call when overseas. Some airlines publish numbers for various countries on their website. Delta, we discovered, doesn’t. Instead, it directs customers to an 800 number (the usual long wait time) or advises they use a chat line on the website or mobile app (much faster pick-up times). Once you get past the “robot rep” you can easily rebook a flight. Lesson: make sure you download your airline’s app, which usually has a way to contact customer service.
6. Purchase an international calling plan from your mobile carrier. We always use ATT’s International Day Pass, which charges $10/day ($5 for a second line) for those days we need to access a foreign cellular network. (We leave our phones in airplane mode and use a voice-over-internet service, like Viber, whenever we can). The day pass accesses the same “unlimited text and talk” plan we enjoy at home. This service is a big help if your flight is suddenly cancelled and you can’t—or won’t—connect to a public WIFI network. (Note: it’s also a good idea to sign up your travel partner’s phone line, since in an emergency you might need two lines!)