“Things are not good.”

And with that, a flight attendant named Kristie Koerbel set social media ablaze with a blunt, detailed Facebook post advising readers how to navigate the not-so-friendly skies during the summer of 2022.

If you’ve flown this year, many of her observations will be painfully familiar: Flight delays and cancellations. Soaring prices. Packed planes. Understaffed crews and nerves so deeply fried they smell like Crisco.

It’s so bleak, insisted Koerbel — whose pointed advice resonated so deeply that she eventually recapped it for The New York Times — that if your destination is “less than 7 hours - DRIVE!”

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And if someone who flies for a living tells you not to fly if you don’t have to, you know something’s up. And it seemed so ominous that even I, an avowed staycation queen who gets itchy if she has to drive any further than the Bay Bridge, started researching road trips. It’s that bad out there … up there. You know what I mean.

Lanham’s Liz Brown has also flown for most of her life, first as a member of the United States Air Force, and now as a professional travel planner for Mixed Adventures, the business she runs with her husband, Jefferson. She agrees with Koerbel that flying this summer is A LOT. And the only way to get through it, she said, is careful planning and plenty of chill.

“Patience is definitely critical,” said Brown, who researches and plans the logistics of their clients’ vacations, from restaurants to ground travel to excursions. “And flexibility. That goes hand-in-hand with patience.”

And boy, are you gonna need it. According to The New York Times, over 820,000 flights had been delayed and more than 116,000 were canceled as of July 1. I’ve flown several times since the beginning of COVID, and patience is often as scarce as legroom. But my son and I have done our best to prepare for what’s now almost always a stressful ordeal. We have our own methods of coping, such as doubling up on the KN95 masks and upgrading our boarding position on Southwest Airlines flights, particularly direct ones. We can sit in the very back of the plane, and no one can breathe on us from behind.

But even our most careful planning can still result in headaches, like hour-plus lines in Customs because there just aren’t enough agents. And this summer, cooped-up travelers “tired of being indoors, stuck not doing anything, feel the need to take trips,” Brown said.

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She’s right. TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein tweeted that agents across the country on June 26 had screened a startling 2,462,097 people that day, the highest number since Feb. 11, 2020, weeks after the first lab-confirmed case of COVID in the U.S. So your chances of settling into your own row are probably nil.

Besides setting up a kiddie pool on the back patio, how does one salvage the rest of the summer? Brown agrees with Koerbel’s original list that it’s all in the planning. Take the first flight of the day, “because the later you leave, the more likely you are to be delayed,” meaning the chances of finding a new flight that day are slimmer. Early flights are crucial for making it in time to things like tours and experiences, the kind that Brown plans. Most of her clients book their own air travel and she takes it from there, she said.

Another scheduling note: “Never (pick) layovers that are less than an hour, not in these times we’re living in,” Brown said. While it seems counterintuitive to try saving time by booking longer times between flights, this allows for the unfortunate likelihood that your first flight might be delayed, or even canceled. (This has happened to me. It isn’t great.) “Book layovers at least two hours. To be safe, I’d say closer to five or six,” she said. “That might sound like a long time, but you’d rather do that than miss your flight.”

She adds that it not only matters when you book your flight, but how. This cuts deeply, as a devotee of third-party sites like Expedia and Booking.com to the point that I create spreadsheets of different combinations of flight, hotel and car rental possibilities just for fun and because I am weird. But Brown books both flights and rental cars directly from the companies, “even if it costs more. I have learned, like with rental cars, that if you go to the counter with a problem, if you’ve booked through a third party, they’re not as willing to work with you.”

Of course, money matters more these days than ever, so if you follow her advice, this is also a good time to create or re-up those loyalty programs, because you might have points and rewards you might not even know about. That happened to me recently with an airline membership program, and it felt like digging your hands into the pocket of a winter coat and finding a $20 bill you forgot about.

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So with six weeks left until Labor Day, Brown said she’s encouraging people to take advantage of the summer and head out, smartly. She laughs when I mention one of the original Facebook post’s most important points — being nice, or at least not a total jerk, particularly to frazzled staff who are likely dealing with entire flights of disenfranchised fliers. They aren’t going to be as quick to help people screaming at them. That one, she believes, isn’t something you should need an expert to tell you.

“That should be human nature,” Brown says. “In life you should just be nice.”


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