Breaking Bad: This Summer Isn't Just Cruel, It's Hellish
THURSDAY, JULY 25, 2019 -- It's important to own up to your mistakes and that is especially true for us bloviators who want you to listen to what we say.

I screwed up. I'm sorry. I got it wrong.

Last month I predicted a cruel, cruel summer on the road, complete with aircraft shortages, delays, cancellations and a corrosive labor situation at American Airlines. I really thought I saw the stars aligning for a miserable summer travel period.

Boy, man, I blew it. This hasn't been a cruel, cruel summer at all.

It's been much, much, much worse. It's been a nightmare, a brutal, dehumanizing, disastrous, nearly hopeless first month. If it can get wrong, it has gone wrong. And, even worse, we're just getting started.

Consider:
      A storm that blew through Chicago last Thursday turned O'Hare Airport in what at least a dozen JoeSentMe members independently called "a zoo." About 900 takeoffs and landings were dumped and another 35 percent were delayed. Both O'Hare hub carriers, United and American, were overwhelmed and seemed unprepared. Thousands of passengers were stranded as the airlines' automatic-rebooking systems failed.
      A combination of extreme heat and violent thunderstorms made flying domestically this week a crapshoot. There were more than 6,600 delays nationwide Sunday, nearly 5,900 on Monday, 6,100 on Tuesday and more than 4,800 yesterday. Monday also saw 1,200 cancellations nationwide.
      A fueling-system failure at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport earlier this week caused cancellations, delays and diversions around the continent.
      Baggage belts failed in Terminal 2 at London's Heathrow on Tuesday and tens of thousands of passengers were forced to fly without their checked bags. Given Heathrow's epically awful history of reuniting summer flyers with their belongings, many passengers will never see their luggage again.

Things aren't likely to get better anytime soon, either. The squabble between American Airlines and its mechanics drags on and it's pretty clear that American chief executive Doug Parker has a long history of letting his carriers deteriorate. The nightmarish heat wave in Europe--temperatures have routinely topped 100 degrees Fahrenheit--is playing havoc with ground transportation. Here at home, vicious storms and high temperatures are alternating, crippling airports around the nation.

So what's to do? I suppose we could stay home. But some of us have to travel for business, you know? Some of us want to take a holiday. And the rest of America is on the move for all sorts of reasons: work, play, whatever.

I dunno if these will help, but here are some strategies and tactics to supplement my tips from last month when I thought we'd face only a cruel, cruel--not a Seven Circles of Hell--summer:

      Wait a few weeks. If you possibly can delay travel, wait until after mid-August. Passenger traffic falls as U.S. families send the kids back to school and the peak of Europe's holiday season has passed.

      Carry on or ship your bags. Your odds of problem-free travel improve dramatically if you can fly without worrying about whether your luggage is flying with you. If you can't get down to carry-on trim, consider shipping your bags instead. It'll cost more, but it's more reliable and less stressful.

      Have a Plan B. For even the shortest trip, know the alternate routes. Overworked ticket-counter agents will look for the easiest solution, almost always on their own carrier. Don't settle for that. If you go to the airport knowing several ways to get to your destination, you can present options to the agent rather than depend on the kindness of those stressed-out strangers.

      Track your equipment. Once upon a time, we used to talk about "knowing the jargon" and how much more respect you got from a gate or counter agent if you asked "Where's the equipment?" instead of "Is the plane on-time?" Forget that old-school stuff. Lots of apps and Internet sites--FlightAware.com, FlightStats.com--will tell you which aircraft will serve your flight and exactly where the plane is in real time. Why fly blind? Know where your aircraft is because that'll help you decide if you should bail on your booked itinerary.

      Know where to put your head on a bed. If you think your flight will dump--or if it has--don't wait for the airline to offer accommodations. Firstly, they might not. Secondly, you'll wait on a long line for a voucher. Know what your airport hotel options are even before you start traveling. If you suspect you'll be stranded for the night--or if the airline announces that you are--book the hotel on your own. Argue about refunds and reimbursement later.

      Avoid Heathrow. History tells us a summer never passes without a major Heathrow meltdown. What happened this week at Terminal 2 is small beer. A planned strike by Heathrow airport employees planned for this weekend was called off. But others--for August 5-6 and August 23-24--may still happen. Meanwhile, British Airways and its pilots are squabbling again. BA lost its first legal attempt to block a strike, so the union is free to walk off the job with 14 days' notice. Bottom line: Why risk a Heathrow run? There are other airlines and other airports.

      Be your own meteorologist. As I said last month, you can drill down to county-level forecasts at Weather.gov, the National Weather Service site. But carry your own radar on your smartphone. I use an Android, so I have Radar Express. It's free, it's accurate and the ads are unobtrusive. If you use iPhone, MyRadar seems to be the app of choice.

Finally, know when you're beaten. There are times you just can't win. You'll be stranded for hours and there's nothing you can do about it. Screaming and ranting only makes you crazy. Being nasty never changes the weather. Know when you're licked. Go have a nice meal, find a quiet corner of a lounge or beat a retreat to a hotel.