Traveling in the Wake of Budget Cuts
Travelers will face a few changes in the way we fly in the coming months. It makes sense then to preplan how much time it will take to clear security, and allow for traffic gridlock on tarmacs and around major airports in the air. Air traffic tower closures will affect a small percentage of travelers, but put more strain on other ones. Here are a few tips I learned from recent air travel across the country:
- Visit the TSA website to learn how to clear security with less fuss and waiting. For example: empty all pockets before going through the scanner. A small coin in a pocket will send you back to re-empty the pocket.
- Check in online and print your boarding pass before going to the airport.
- If you catch a connecting flight, be sure the airline knows how much time you will need to make it from one gate to another or possibly to another terminal. If you do not feel comfortable with only the airline recommended 30 minutes, ask for an hour. You have to catch another plane, not them.
- If friends or family are meeting you at the airport, they may want to use an appropriate cell phone parking lot rather than pay for parking.
- Be sure to carry all confirmation numbers with you. This is needed by any transportation company you take to and from the airport or to a hotel. Many of them use hand-held digital tracking devices and it is quicker if they can enter the confirmation number than your name.
Air Traffic Control Towers and Staff Budget Cuts
There are 250 contracted air traffic towers in the United States. They handle 28% of control traffic operations, and the budget cuts less than 6% of all air traffic. The cuts do not necessarily mean that an airport will be closed as corporate jets and other private aircraft can usually operate without them. However, if needed, the small jets can use the towers located at larger airports. And some of those larger Federal Aviation Administration operated towers will be under stress with possibly more traffic to control while managing federal employee work furloughs – another budget-related cut. There are usually six controllers in contracted towers and 16 in those operated by the FAA. If you fly in and out of a county of regional airport, check with your airline to see if it will still operate from there. Pleasure travelers should plan way in advance for any air travel and avoid using any smaller airports to circumvent future cancellations. Business travelers using corporate aircraft may be okay as long as the pilot can use an airport without air traffic control. Click here for a list of towers which could be affected. Check back on the same link March 19 for the final version.
Customs and Border Control
The federal budgets cuts will also affect the number of people working at customs in the United States at airports and at border crossings. Anyone who has traveled internationally know the wait to get through customs can be long. Employee layoffs and forced days off will result in an even longer wait. Furloughs, or forced time off, begin in mid April. Customs wait times are expected to increase 150 to 200 percent of the normal time. To facilitate a smoother entry, complete the customs form on the flight and have your tickets, passport and declaration forms ready for agents. Be sure the passport photo looks like you, answer questions honestly and sincerely.
Almost everyone traveling today has a smart phone or tablet where they can check flight status, notify hotels and others if there is a delay. Additionally, there are hundreds of travel apps available for both Apple and Android devices. These have become very valuable and useful to ease the stress of travel and delays which may occur. They save time and money too. Learn to pack lightly especially for short trips and carry one bag for the overhead and one for under the seat, as this saves money on baggage fees. Bring your own headphones or ear buds, snacks and other entertainment for longer flights. Planning ahead saves time and money.