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Taking the Kids: Returning to the (not always friendly) skies

Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Content Agency on

Long lines, delayed flights, unpleasant interactions, required COVID-19 tests and masks.

Air travel, unless you were fortunate to fly first class, hasn’t been fun for a long time, but as we return to the skies it seems worse. AAA expected 3.5 million people to fly over the Independence Day holiday, reaching 90 percent of pre-pandemic levels.

But no one — from airport shuttles to rental car companies to airlines – seems prepared, resulting in irritable employees and travelers.

“Getting angry isn’t going to solve anything,” a Jet Blue gate agent chastised a passenger. To be fair, the passenger — and the others crowding the JFK gate – had every reason to be upset. I know because I was among them. Over the course of 10 hours, we had planed and deplaned three times — twice for mechanical issues and the third time because the crew apparently couldn’t work any more hours. When another crew couldn’t be rounded up, the flight was finally canceled with the passengers rescheduled for the next morning.

It didn’t help that armed Port Authority police were waiting and watching us deplane for the final time on the jetway, seemingly expecting trouble. Nor did it help that the Jet Blue staff were overwhelmed, which made passengers even more frustrated.

At the same time, there have been widely reported altercations between flight attendants and passengers, who don’t want to comply with mask mandates.

 

“Most passengers are compliant, but a vocal minority willfully choose to remove their masks inflight, even though they confirmed their willingness to comply when they bought their ticket and when they checked in for their flight,” said a statement from the 50,000-member Association of Flight Attendants, noting that the rate of documented disruptive passenger incidents is “at an all-time high” and starting this month, the TSA will resume classes in self-defense training for flight attendants and pilots.

A new wrinkle to summer 2021 travel: Required Negative COVID-19 tests taken no more than 72 hours before travel to some international destinations. Many on our flight said by the time they could fly out the next morning, they would be beyond the 72 hours. “Customers should time testing to account for potential delays. It is up to customers to make sure that their entry documentation is up to date, including time-specific testing requirements,” said Jet Blue spokesman Tamara Young.

But should passengers expect delays of more than 24 hours?

If you are traveling out of the country, make sure you check what travel authorization forms are required besides proof of a negative COVID-19 test. You won’t be permitted to board your flight otherwise.

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