Summer 2024 travel already breaking records: Here are some of our top tips

Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of the busy summer travel season — and it was one for the record books. May 24, the Friday before the long holiday weekend, was the busiest ever for the Transportation Security Administration, with the agency screening 2.9 million people. In fact, five of the 10 busiest days on record happened this month alone. According to the TSA, the agency screened nearly 8% more people over this year’s holiday weekend versus 2023.

If Memorial Day weekend is any indication, it’s going to be a record-breaking summer for both domestic and international travel. That’s because the usually busy travel season will also include travel-worthy events like the Summer Olympics in Paris.

Record-breaking summer travel expected

U.S. airlines predict 271 million will travel between June 1 and Aug. 31. That would easily surpass last summer’s record of 255 million, according to Airlines for America. U.S. airlines plan to operate over 26,000 flights daily this summer, an increase of nearly 1,400 flights per day from the previous year (or 5.6% over last summer).

Summer 2024 forecast. AIRLINES FOR AMERICA

Airlines have added flights to accommodate the rush of demand.

“U.S. airlines are excited to fly a record number of travelers this summer,” Rebecca Spicer, A4A’s senior vice president of communications, said in a press release. “Our carriers have adjusted their schedules to adapt to current realities of our National Airspace System (NAS), helping to alleviate some of those pressure points and making for a smooth summer travel season.”

Indeed, U.S. airlines performed remarkably well over the long Memorial Day weekend despite a series of thunderstorms that slammed parts of the country. Airlines appear to be recovering more quickly without the cataclysmic failures in the system we saw coming out of the worst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Still, it’s better to be prepared for anything. Here are a few of my top tips to help you stay sane this summer.

Reserve parking

As travel demand has increased, so, too, has the need for airport parking. We are increasingly seeing “sold out” signs at airport parking lots.

To ensure you aren’t stuck searching for a spot that may or may not exist, lock in that reservation now. Most airport parking lots offer prepaid or reserved parking, making it easy to book in advance. You may even find the rates are cheaper when you book ahead of time.

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Related: Don’t forget to do this before heading to the airport this summer

Allow extra time

Fountain at New York City’s LaGuardia Airport (LGA). CLINT HENDERSON/THE POINTS GUY

It’s going to be busy at the airport this summer, and you should plan accordingly. While we aren’t seeing the staffing shortages of a few years ago, there are only so many baggage handlers, ticket counter employees and security screeners.

My mantra for this summer (and the one many of my TPG colleagues share) is that you’re “better safe than sorry.” That is why we suggest getting to the airport two hours early for domestic flights and three hours in advance for international flights. You just never know these days.

Modern airports have so many conveniences and attractions that it’s not the worst thing to have a little extra time at the lounge or even to do some shopping.

Get Global Entry, TSA PreCheck or clear — or a combination of all 3

The TSA line at Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL). CLINT HENDERSON/THE POINTS GUY

At TPG, we always recommend using any security shortcuts, including enrolling in a Trusted Traveler Program like TSA PreCheck or Global Entry.

With these programs, the government essentially prescreens you for security, thus saving you a bit of time during your travels. You’ll need to apply ahead of time and pay a fee. The great news, though, is that many credit cards will give you a statement credit for these fees.

Related: 7 ways to get free or discounted TSA PreCheck, Global Entry and Clear

TSA PreCheck allows you to speed through airport security without removing your shoes, laptops or liquids. With Global Entry, you can breeze through customs when you return from an international trip.

We recommend getting Global Entry rather than simply TSA PreCheck. Global Entry requires an interview with U.S. Customs and Border Protection ahead of time, but once you’re approved, TSA PreCheck will be included.

We also like Clear, another security program that allows you to bypass long security lines.

A Clear membership combined with TSA PreCheck will enable you to go to even shorter lines at some airports with designated Clear/TSA PreCheck lines. Clear isn’t always faster, but it will still generally lead to shorter lines.

Related: Why you should get TSA PreCheck and Clear — and how you can save on both

Be smart when you are booking

Orlando International Airport (MCO). CLINT HENDERSON/THE POINTS GUY

There is still a shortage of air traffic controllers, and things can and do still go wrong. Travelers these days have to be their own best advocates.

Book better

Think through each booking you make. Try to find a nonstop flight instead of a flight with multiple connections to reduce the risk of missing a flight or being delayed. This will also lessen the chance of having your luggage lost or misplaced.

We also recommend you take one of the first flights of the day, as early flights are less likely to face weather disruptions like afternoon thunderstorms, meaning they’re most likely to depart on time.

Related: Flight canceled or delayed? Here’s what to do next

Knowledge is power

Make sure you are tracking your flight and the weather.

Download your airline’s mobile app to keep track of potential flight delays in real time. Airline apps are a secret weapon in case things go wrong. Not only will you know when boarding starts, but you’ll also learn of any delays first. Some airlines even allow you to rebook yourself in the app (or buy yourself an upgrade).

If your flight is canceled, you’ll want to beat everyone else on your flight who is also looking to get rebooked.

We recommend heading to the main customer service desk (or the one at a lounge, if you have access). You could also get on the phone with the airline or contact the carrier via social media if there’s a delay. Sometimes, an airline’s social media representative will help you faster than a phone or in-person agent. You have to use every tool at your disposal when things go wrong.

Many airlines also now have live chat capabilities to help navigate delays and cancellations.

I always have an alternate plan (or two) in the back of my mind in case a flight gets canceled or delayed. I also look to see what other airlines are flying the route I’m taking in case something goes awry. This way, I’ll know what to ask for if I need to be rebooked.

I also like using FlightRadar24 to track my flights, plus an app called Flighty. The latter helps me keep an eye on my flights and will often let me know before anyone else (even the airline) if there is a problem with my flight.

Flighty notifications. FLIGHTY

You can also use Google to track your flight. Simply put in the airline and flight number to see your flight status.

Know your rights

There’s good news regarding passenger rights. The Biden administration is taking a tougher stance when it comes to holding airlines accountable and aiding consumers.

New Department of Transportation rules are more passenger-friendly, requiring airlines to promptly refund passengers if they cancel their flights (or make a significant adjustment to the schedule).

You are entitled to a full refund to your original form of payment within a week if you paid by credit card and within three weeks if you used another payment method. This applies to flights delayed by three or more hours if flying within the U.S. and by at least six hours if flying internationally. Keep in mind, though, that airlines are only required to refund passengers who don’t use their tickets.

If you find yourself dealing with a delay or cancellation, remember to save all the receipts for the expenses you incur. You’ll want excellent documentation in the case of meltdowns like the one Southwest Airlines passengers experienced during the 2022 winter holidays.

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