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The worst summer ever for air travel, again

Spring is finally here, spurring travelers to finalize summer travel plans and travel industry commentators to make their annual dire-summer-air-travel forecasts. Last year, we were told that a series of negative developments in the airline industry—such as a reduced number of flights and the prospect of increased overbooking—would be exacerbated by huge numbers of flyers to create a perfect storm of hellish air travel conditions. This year, the forecasters are singing the same tune.

Yesterday, the Denver Post published a report tallying a host of problems that could be aggravated by higher number of flyers during the summer: The nation's outdated air traffic control system might be overwhelmed, thunderstorms could disrupt schedules, pilots refusing to work overtime may cause more cancellations, and with most flights flying at or near capacity, there might be no open seats on other flights should yours be canceled or delayed.

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"We're very concerned about this summer's airline schedule," says John Prater, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Air Line Pilots Association, International. "I believe it's going to be as bad as the summer of 2000." A Denver travel agent adds, "If a flight cancels out, you used to be able to say, 'Oh, well, it's no problem. We'll just move you to the next one.' Well, the next one is full. And none of the carriers want to move you to a different airline."

In contrast, several airline representatives, including spokespersons from Frontier and United, are quoted as saying their carriers are up to the task this summer.

Who should we believe? I think this summer, as in summers past, flying will be trying for some, but those who build more flexibility in their schedules will have a better chance of riding out difficulties. For some suggestions, check out the tips compiled SmarterTravel.com's Frequent Flyer columnist Tim Winship last spring, which are still relevant this year.

Read comments or add your own insight!
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