- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 21, 2007

THE WASHINGTON TIMES United Airlines grounded all of its flights for two hours yesterday because of a computer malfunction, adding to the woes that fliers are expected to endure this summer.

U.S. airlines are reporting their worst delays in more than 10 years, with 72.5 percent of flights leaving on time through April, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

So, air travelers need to be well-prepared to fly, travel experts advise. And that doesn’t mean packing sunscreen or a curling iron.

By planning ahead, travelers can avoid or at least prepare for delays and cancellations, said David Castelveter, spokesman for the Air Transport Association, the trade group for the major airlines.

“When you’re traveling, it’s good to have with you your options,” he said.

Yesterday, United fliers had few options. The world’s second-biggest carrier in passenger-miles flown stopped all takeoffs around the globe for more than two hours after the failure of the computer that controls flight operations.

The outage lasted from 9 to 11 a.m., delaying about 268 flights and forcing 24 cancellations, the Chicago airline said. United said it was investigating and hoped to resume normal operations by today.

Jocelyn Ashberg from Cape Town, South Africa, said she flew from Washington to Chicago yesterday, only to sit on the tarmac at O’Hare International Airport for 1½ hours after the plane landed.

“We rushed to get the plane in Washington because we were late coming in because we were delayed in Johannesburg,” she said. “Then when we got to Chicago, we just had to sit and sit and sit because nobody could tell us how long it was going to be … we just had to sit like sardines in a can.”

Such delays are why every traveler should bring a good book, said Jerry Chandler, North American correspondent for Cheapflights.com, an online travel company.

It also never hurts to buy a bottle of water and some snacks once you pass through security, Mr. Castelveter said, “especially if you’re traveling with a child.”

Amy Ziff, editor at large for the Web site Travelocity, recommends planning for a few hours longer than the flight is supposed to last in case of delays and to always have something for everyone to do.

Mrs. Ziff said travelers should be sure to carry phone numbers for travel agents, the airline and emergency contacts, which can come in handy if a flight gets canceled.

Bring a flight schedule, too, Mr. Castelveter said. It will make the rescheduling process much easier.

Because summer means afternoon thunderstorms, avoiding flights at that time is key.

“That’s when the thunderstorms start to bubble up,” he said. “They’re always going to be killers as far as delays go.”

Morning flights, on the other hand, tend to have less of a chance of weather delays, Mr. Chandler said.

Flying into and out of Chicago has been particularly bad, said Phil Crookes, 48, as he waited in line yesterday afternoon to check in at the United Airlines counter for his business flight to Chicago out of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. He has been flying into O’Hare a lot lately, which tends to get bad weather that causes delays.

“Sometimes it’s easier to just drive to Chicago,” said Mr. Crookes, who works out of Cincinnati.

Yesterday, his flight was on time. And he noted that there’s really nothing you can do about delayed flights.

“No point in getting stressed,” Mr. Crookes said.

Experts also advise to avoid flying on Sunday and Monday, the busiest travel days. Instead, opt for Tuesdays, Wednesdays and sometimes Thursdays. For international flights, avoid the weekends.

Using the Internet also can make flying easier, Mr. Castelveter said. He recommends checking in as early as possible online; some services let travelers check in 24 hours in advance.

The Internet also allows travelers to check the Department of Transportation’s Web site for delay information about specific airports, Mr. Chandler said.

But creating a time buffer is the best way to ensure that travel plans don’t get ruined by delayed or canceled flights, Mr. Castelveter said.

Melissa Filter, 37, said she waited 35 minutes to check in and about 45 minutes for security when she flew out of Denver International Airport to Reagan Airport for business at the beginning of the week.

“It’s getting worse. The whole security thing has created more delays,” she said. “I’ve learned patience, lots of patience.”

A time buffer also means scheduling connecting flights with sufficient time between, Mr. Castelveter said. And with a record number of people projected to fly this summer — 209 million, a 3 percent increase from last summer, according to the Air Transport Association — travelers should arrive early enough to make sure they are not rushing through security checkpoints.

But try to avoid connecting flights, Mr. Chandler said.

“Nonstops cost more, but there’s less of a chance you’ll be delayed,” he said.

If your flight does end up getting canceled, call the travel agent immediately, Mr. Castelveter said.

Or call the airline’s toll-free number instead of waiting in line, Mrs. Ziff said.

And always “practice patience,” said Mr. Castelveter.

Doing this can make the rescheduling process easier for you and the airline employees, Mr. Chandler said.

“Most of them don’t want to be doing this any more than you do.”

c This article is based in part on wire service reports.



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