Ahhh the joys of summer travel…
Said no flight attendant ever.
Ask any flight attendant and they’ll tell you: Summer travel is the WORST.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Summer. Being a New Englander, having a long history with all four seasons, Summer is easily my favorite. But when you combine this magical time of year with air travel, the results are…well…not so great.
I wrote recently about 40 Reasons Why Flight Attendants are so Cranky, and if I didn’t put Summer Travel somewhere on that list, then I’ll need to amend it to 41 reasons. This one is big. The basic reason for this is easy to grasp: Summer is a busy time of year for travel. The kids are out of school, teachers are out of school, the beach beckons you, sitting in your cubicle, so strongly that you find yourself impulsively submitting for PTO. There is lake life, camping, beach days, beach bars, outdoor dining, outdoor sleeping, outdoor showering oooooh ya! In short, there is just a lot to do in the Summer.
Because everyone and their grandma is setting off for vacation, the flights are full, airlines beef up their schedules, and often their prices. There are more hours to be worked by flight crews. There is more weather to get in the way. When it comes to summer travel, there is MORE of everything…including problems.
Basically, all the worst parts of travel are magnified, if for no other reason than sheer numbers.
You might not be believing me yet, but read on dear warm-weather wanderer. You’ll see.
8 Reasons Summer Travel is the Worst
According to Flight Attendants
Haven’t we all gotten very comfortable with personal space this year? If you’re anything like me you can’t help reminiscing, anytime you’re behind the wheel, of Pandemic traffic. The good old days when city streets and airport terminals were virtual ghost towns. I know this is sacrilege to say, since my livelihood depends on all these crowds, but man is it overwhelming after a year of peace.
People bumping into you, stopping short in front of you mid-stride, long lines. Woof. Having become more introverted than ever over the past year, big crowds are just not my jam. But even for the most crowd-loving extrovert, this high volume of people traveling during the summer months can present some specific issues that are kind of a buzzkill.
Long security lines
mean you should plan to arrive at the airport earlier than normal. I have been floored by the snaking security line at Boston’s Logan airport on several a busy post-pandemic morning.
Long lines for food & drink
Although airlines are building back up to pre-pandemic flight schedules, although Pandemic restrictions are easing around the nation, and though demand for travel is sky-high (see what I did there?), airlines and airports are still slowly making their way back to life. Food and drink options in most airports around the U.S. continue to be very limited. And many of the establishments that did re-open have reduced business hours. This means that the few places open in the airport are bound to have long lines. If I were you (and if I were me) I’d plan to pack my own lunch. If you just neeeeeeed that airport fare, be sure to arrive nice and early. They don’t hold planes for a venti Frappuccino.
The days of blocked middle seats are over and dead. Goodbye! If you have not flown since early Pandemic days, get ready for a rude awakening. Expect to get cozy with your seatmates, because flights are full, full, FULL. Back to the good ol’ days of silently battling over the armrest and compressing yourself into the tiniest version possible, when seated in the middle. Listen, it was nice while it lasted. But now airlines have to capitalize on the flying public’s demand and make a few bucks. (I knowwwww, we feel so bad for them, right?) If you really don’t want someone sitting next to you, you always have the option to buy a second seat.
Thunderstorms, hurricanes, wild fires, oh my! Everyone has it in their head that winter flying is bad because of snowstorms. And sure, it can be. But Summer flying is a more insidious kind of torment. In the Summer, there is bad weather everywhere.
A thunderstorm may not make news the way a blizzard does, but it sure can shut down an operation. Airport ramps have to completely shut down—all the moving parts stop moving—anytime lightning is seen within a certain proximity. Do you KNOW how often thunder and lightning happen in Florida? The Caribbean? I don’t have a number, but it feels like every single day to me.
Fuck it, I’ll look it up. According to this post by News 13 Florida, Florida sees, on average, 70-100 days with at least one thunderstorm.
We’re looking at you again Florida, surprise, surprise. Okay, fine we’re looking other places, too. We’re looking at all of the Caribbean, and the Eastern Seaboard, usually notsofaras the Mid-Atlantic, but sometimes, on rare occasion like with Sandy, we can see hurricanes all the way up to the Northeast. Hurricanes, beyond being deadly and destroying lives and landscapes, can also severely impact airline operations. This kind of goes without saying, right?
West coast best coast! Except when wildfires engulf the left coast in flame and block out the sun with smoke, and the soot from the fires gets into your lungs, and you have to stay indoors, but it’s hard to do because you’re being evacuated from your home, because it’s in the PATH OF A FIRE!
Okay, so fires are a really big deal. Admittedly, fires affect commercial air travel less often than the wetter weather occurrences, but it does happen sometimes. If the visibility is extremely poor from smoke, or if the smoke is so bad that it creates what NASA has called a “Fire-breathing dragon of clouds”, aka a special kind of thunderstorm produced from heat & smoke as a result of wildfires, then aircraft may have to change course, divert, or stay grounded.
With all these examples of weather incidents than can cause delays and make summer travel the worst, it is important to remember that the weather does not only affect the place in which it’s happening. Just because it is sunny where you are or where you’re going, that does not mean the gate agents are lying about it being a weather delay. You might be traveling from New York to LA, both of which are sunny, dry, and beautiful. But if your aircraft is stuck in Puerto Rico in severe thunderstorms, it doesn’t matter how nice the weather is in New York. Storms happening in various parts of the country have down-line consequences across the operation, even in cities that see no sign of nasty weather. Keep in mind that you can’t see the whole picture from where you’re standing.
Bad weather is one of the major reasons summer travel is the worst.
3. Air Traffic
Heavy air traffic is par for the course with those crowds we talked about and is also one of the reasons that summer travel is the worst. We all hate sitting in traffic to get to work. What about sitting on a tarmac?
As with your work commute on the highway, traffic can negatively impact commuting in the skyway, too. More planes, more traffic. The more traffic, the more chance for mishaps and delays. Sometimes your plane will be forced, by Air Traffic Control, to slow down because there are already too many planes in the airspace you’re heading to. Sometimes you have to sit in a line of 20 other aircraft waiting to depart. (HELLOOOOOO JFK at 5pm!) Sometimes an airport can get so congested from the high traffic that a ground stop is put into place. Meaning if you’re supposed to be flying there, your plane can’t leave until the ground stop is lifted. It’s every bit as frustrating as commuting south of Boston on ’93, in the summer, on a Friday afternoon—for you Bostonians who need a reference point.
This is yet another example of my now famous phrase “mo demand, mo problems.”
4. First Timers
I love me a first-time flyer. Welcome to the club! But having a lot of newbies, especially simultaneously, can be…challenging.
Many of the people who take their once-a-year trip every summer are not well traveled. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it means that sometimes they require a little extra attention or explanation. They may not be up to date with the latest in travel news and airline procedures. We have all stood behind that person in the security line who goes through with their belt on, phone in hand, despite the agents shouting commands their way. Is this a huge deal? No, but it can cause a frustrating delay in what is already the most stressful part of travel for many people—security.
Inexperienced flyers might expect a hot meal to be served on their flight from Vegas to Chicago. They may expect free blankets or headsets, or checked luggage. All of which, unless you’re flying international, are relics of the past. Sometimes once-in-a-while flyers are surprised by the lack of leg room, aisle room, bag space, drink selection, or any number of things. As I said, this is not a bad thing. It is simple enough to explain something to someone. But over the Summer, the number of times you have to explain the basics of flying skyrockets. It gets a bit tiring saying the same things over and over. Having to apologize for the frustration (over a policy that has been in place for 5+ years) can be draining.
I don’t want this piece to discourage people from flying. Sometimes flyers—First time Flyers—Come fly! I’m just making note of one of the difficulties for crew and passengers alike in these busy summer travel months.
5. Long Duty Days
This one is geared toward crew and is a MAJOR reason we think summer travel is the worst.
Those delays we talked about earlier—weather, air traffic, etc.—are not just annoying for all of you trying to get where you’re going. Did you know that flight attendants are allowed to work up to 18 hours in a day? More, if they are crazy enough to agree to it. The worst part of many delays is that we don’t get paid anything for the extra time. Unless a delay takes place on the plane with the door closed, your flight attendants are at work for free. We might be moping around the airport for 5 hours just like you are, and not a penny more will we see. Seriously. We can be worked into our days off, long into our scheduled sleeping hours, and not receive so much as a “thank you.”
Summer flying can make for very sleepy flight attendants, and these unexpected extended duty days can take all the fun out of our otherwise amazing job.
I know delays are frustrating for all of you, but please try to have some compassion for your crews in these situations. They might be wearing the uniform, but they are not making any of the decisions in flight schedules, they cannot control the weather, they may have just worked several hours for free, and this might just be their 17th hour in cheap polyester blend.
Let us be kind to one another and repeat the mantra: “Summer travel is the worst.”
More flights means more air traffic...and that means delays.
6. Missing Beach Days to Sit in a metal Tube
This reason why summer travel is the worst is also geared toward flight crew.
What do you do when the time of year you least want to work happens to be your industry’s busiest?
I’m a New Englander, and for us the summer months are both precious and fleeting. You could miss the season if you’re not deliberate about taking time to enjoy it. It’s sort of a catch-22, balancing the desire to make money and get hours in while there is a lot of flying and the desire to lay your butt on the beach for three months straight. If summer travel is rough because of the crowds, fall travel brings the opposite problem. Hours are cut as demand drops drastically with the change in season. Knowing the slower months are coming, many of us want to get it while the getting’s good and fly as much as possible.
But that means missing things. Sunshine and waves and lake days and bbqs. Races and fishing trips and long, rewarding hikes. Reading a book in the sand or taking a shady nap in a hammock. And it also means sitting in a metal tube full of recycled oxygen on a glorious sunny summer day.
7. Good Luck Flying Standby
Summertime is always a difficult time for standby travel because of increased demand. But this Summer seems to be even worse than normal. Airlines are getting back to business, but still have not completely scaled up their flight schedules to pre-pandemic levels. There are few flights and high demand. This is a disastrous recipe if you’re trying to fly standby. (Because you only get a seat if no one has purchased that seat.)
Sidenote: If you don’t know what non-revenue means, check out my post on all things non-rev travel HERE:
This isn’t just about flight crews not being able to gallivant around the world, flying for free. Many of us fly to work. And for obvious reasons, not being able to get to work—or worse, home from work—is kiiiiiind of a problem. This is one of the reasons for flight crews that summer travel (and especially this summer) is the worst.
8. Post-Pandemic Summer is…extra.
Extra good, extra bad, just extra.
It’s the Summer of love, of reemergence, of getting out there and making new friends, of enjoying every moment, having lived through a perilous period in time. And it’s the Summer of other things, too. People raging over masks. Making up for their low-key year by getting smashed-apples on the airplane. Needing to make a big “statement” with every move instead of just, idk, going about one’s business.
People are falling into one of two categories. They are either so grateful to be traveling again, so happy and delighted, that they are extra sweet. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, many have reached new lows in their entitled behavior. They’re pissed we don’t have hard alcohol on the plane yet. They’re complaining about the (weather) delay as if flying into a dangerous storm, putting 150 other people at risk, would be better than them having to call to re-arrange their ride from the airport.
There are mask-holes. There are tattle-tales. There is a lot of stranger socialization (maybe even love connections) happening on the airplane. And there are those still asking to be moved to some “private section” they imagine exists on the plane to avoid contact with people.
Overall, it is just a lot. Please be kind to your crews in this difficult time of transition. Be kind to one another as well.
And there you have it folx. 8 Reasons why summer travel is the absolute WORST. Flight attendants, travelers—any other reasons you can think of? What do you hate most about summer travel?
Are you on the summer travel bandwagon and wanting to defend your favorite travel season? Be my guest! Share all your cheers and jeers of summer travel in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!
And, Guys, if there are aviation or travel-themed topics you’d like me to cover, please, please let me know. You can leave them in the comments or tell me directly via email.
Thank you as always for stopping by. I hope you all have a magical weekend and that you’ve got some (horrid) summer travel of your own booked!
Until next time!
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Hi. I’m Toni, and I run the show here at A Wheel in the Sky. I hope you enjoyed reading this post about summer travel. If you liked what you read and are interested in more travel tips and flight attendant secrets, then please consider subscribing! You can get all the juicy stories, adventure inspo, and pro tips sent directly to your inbox. We really appreciate it!
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