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Dangerous Travel This Week

Updated: Dec 22, 2022

If you are traveling for the next several days please prepare. Take extra blankets, hats, scarves, and mittens in case you get stuck in your car. Take food and a thermos of hot cocoa. Take kitty litter and a folding shovel in case you slide off the road. If stranded run your car heater 10 minutes per hour to keep from getting too cold and also to preserve gas. If you are flying there will be delays and cancelations.

To be prepared - review:

We have all heard the reports of delayed and canceled flights, thousands some days. Travel is expected to become even more problematic as the holiday season approaches. There are several reasons for this.

During the pandemic, travel was down 70%. Airlines were worried about surviving. This resulted in laying off staff, shedding pilots, and selling and retiring aircraft. Delta let go 30% of their employees, almost 30,000 people. Other airlines did the same. Airlines were trying to reduce expenses, anticipating that income would go down with fewer people flying.

Becoming a pilot is not an entry-level job. It takes years of training. There is also a mandatory retirement age for pilots: 65 years old. If a pilot becomes ill, there are no “extra” pilots to take their place.

Airplanes are built and sitting while waiting for chips that are few in number due to the pandemic, freeze in Texas, and problems at the ports that have delayed materials getting to Boeing and those making key components. Yes, many of the chips manufactured in the United States come from Texas.

TSA is woefully understaffed. It is difficult to find workers for loading and unloading planes when easier jobs pay more. If a TSA worker becomes ill, there are no others to replace them. Thus, loading and unloading planes take longer. Flight delays will be the story for months to come. And then, there is the weather.

A few years ago, the Denver airport was closed for four days due to an overwhelming blizzard. The experience of a friend who was in the Denver airport during that December blizzard should help you change your mind about traveling bare-bones light.

Wednesday afternoon, December 20th. I had just picked up my son at the airport and we were driving home when he got a frantic text message from his friend who left BYU-Idaho two days before, telling him she was stranded at the Denver airport and didn’t know if she could get home to St. Louis before Friday. Thus began a harrowing week for his friend, and her family and friends.

Let me see if I can help you understand the chaos that ensued: First, the friend was talking to her dad trying to get some help and comfort when her cell phone went dead. There she was, along with nearly 5,000 other passengers all trying to contact their families through overloaded cellular systems, and very long lines for very few working pay phones. Passengers have just been told they will be at the airport for at least two more days.

Everyone makes a mad dash to buy some food and drink, but no one is accepting debit or credit cards because the computers are down. Go to an ATM for cash? After a very short time, there was no longer cash in the ATM machines, or they were not working at all. By the time the ATMs are working again, all the restaurants and food vendors were out of food and the Red Cross is still not able to get in with supplies. Everyone is stuck. It has only been one day and already there is no food, no bottled drinks, and no way to get any delivered because the roads are closed.

At this point, it is time to think about just getting some rest and hoping tomorrow will be better. The airport staff has been out to the planes and opened those planes with doors that were not frozen shut and gathered all the blankets. Another line in the terminal forms to get one blanket per person, if you were lucky. Our friend waits for two hours to get a blanket.

There were a few cots, but they were reserved for those 75 years old or older. Families have their children sleeping on luggage they have stacked together to keep them from having to sleep on the floor. And then there were those stuck in airplanes on the tarmac, where snow is too deep to taxi the planes to the gate so passengers can disembark.

Finally, the airlines unloaded passengers who were stuck on planes. Inside the terminal, some passengers were invited to go to baggage claim to pick up their luggage. Hundreds are now trying to find luggage that hopefully will contain a few things to make this “adventure” more bearable. But no… now that they have their luggage they are not allowed to return to the comfort and warmth of the terminal boarding areas. This is because they are only allowing those with a boarding pass-through — the departure areas of the terminal are “secure” areas.

Naturally, those who were stranded on planes do not have boarding passes. This leaves those who went to fetch their luggage stranded in the baggage claim and passenger check-in areas — sleeping on luggage conveyer belts or on concrete floors where, in addition to the colder temperatures, they are now joined by bugs and mice (who are also cold and looking for a warm place to snuggle). Of course, no one is really sleeping anyway, for fear someone will steal his or her luggage.

To further sour the situation, passengers are now told they probably can’t get out on a flight until Christmas Eve, three days away.

Carry-On Essentials

Learn from this the next time you or a family member is traveling, especially during the winter months, there are a few things you should be sure to include in your carry-on baggage.

  1. Carry your cell phone charger: There are not many, but there are wall plugs throughout the airport and some recharging stations. Being stuck in an airport overnight is bad enough, but when you cannot communicate with loved ones, mere trials become ordeals.

  2. Emergency ID Card: Always carry an emergency card with your name, home address, allergies, and medical conditions, in your carry-on bag. Also, carry phone numbers for family and friends. When stressed, we can forget these numbers. Have them written down just in case your cell phone dies.

  3. Carry cash: Small bills are best. Retailers may not accept large bills in an emergency, so be prepared with ones, fives, and tens. Consider what it might cost to eat, buy supplies, or even a magazine, and multiply by two or three days. Don’t be caught short. I recently experienced a 9-hour delay due to thunderstorms. Fortunately, the power remained on but if it had not, I did have cash in small bills on hand.

  4. Carry some food for backup: Stranded for four days, our friend only had two candy bars and a cookie. Consider carrying a few high-calorie bars like those in a five-day kit. Some of these bars taste terrible, but others are really good and taste like shortbread cookies. Buy some and have your family test them first. For your travel day, pack a lunch with a sandwich, a few carrot sticks, protein bars, and an apple… if you don’t need them, well you were prepared, but if you do need them, they will be priceless. Avoid salty foods that will make you thirsty, like chips and jerky. FYI, if you want to keep your food cold, freeze a bottle of water. Frozen water can be taken thru security.

  5. Drinks: With the new flight regulations, it is difficult to carry drinks, but as soon as you get through security, if you think there may be any chance your flight will be delayed or canceled, purchase a bottle of water. You can refill these as often as you need at a water fountain. Hard candy and lifesavers help to keep your mouth moist, too. I carry an empty water bottle and fill it when I get through security.

  6. Vitamins: One of the first things the Red Cross brought in after three days was a baggie with vitamins for each passenger.

  7. Medications: Always carry your prescriptions in your carry-on bag. Add pain relievers, stomach medication, cold relievers — you know the drill. All of these come in various forms, so you don’t have to worry about liquids at security.

  8. Change of clothing: Include a change of underwear and a clean shirt in your carry-on. It is amazing how much better a change of clothes makes you feel.

  9. Personal hygiene items: Folks in Denver were longing for their toothbrushes. You can get toothpaste, soap, shaving cream, deodorant, etc. in travel sizes now. All of these will be some of the first things to sell out at the shops, not to mention feminine supplies. Anything you couldn’t live without goes in the carry-on. While you are at it, include a washcloth.

  10. Mark your luggage in a unique way: If you are competing with hundreds or thousands of others with look-alike bags, attach a crazy luggage tag, colored duct tape, or a wild sticker to your bag to distinguish it from all the rest.

  11. Insect repellent: Sounds crazy, I know, but I would rather not be bug bait.

  12. Pack a diversion: If you are traveling with young children, pack books, crayons, paper, or a favorite stuffed animal. In our five-day kits, we suggest including include a small inflatable beach ball and Styrofoam airplanes. These are cheap, practically weightless, and could be fun for a long time. If they happen to hit someone nearby, they will not injure or make tempers flare. For adults, including a book, magazines, crossword, Sudoku, or a travel game. If you are depending on the games on your laptop you may want to think again; you will need to recharge the battery and everyone with a charger will be looking for a place to plug in computers and phones.

  13. Mylar survival blanket: If you are lucky enough to get a blanket you will want to use it as a covering and that leaves you sleeping on a filthy floor. Place your Mylar blanket on the floor and even though insects may still visit you, the surface under you is clean, and the foil side of your blanket will reflect and retain your body heat.

  14. Travel soft: If you are traveling with two carry-on pieces, put your soft items in one bag, like your backpack, and keep bulky shoes, cameras, etc. in the other bag. Now your backpack is ready to be used as a pillow if the need arises. There were no pillows provided to passengers during the Denver airport shutdown.

  15. Moist towelettes and tissues: If you are stranded like passengers in Denver, help, and supplies can’t get in. Restrooms run out of supplies, food courts run out of napkins, and Kleenex — forget it.

  16. Carry on your eyeglasses: If you wear contacts you may need to take them out if you are stranded for a day, not just a few hours.

You may think the above list looks extreme, but what will the headlines say thirty days from now? With a little time gathering the items we already own, and a small investment to buy a few others, we can all be better prepared and survive quite well, any airport challenge that awaits us.

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1 Comment

Sam Robbins
Sam Robbins
Jul 03, 2023

Thank you for your voice of warning, six months ago! I am very grateful for your posts. I read this right after it was posted at the end of 2022 and thought, “this is a nice reminder.” Six months later and the end of June (when it is supposed to be ‘good’ weather); I am traveling with my older father, connecting on a United flight through Denver. With both United employee issues and weather impacting our travel, I remembered your article. Our original, morning-flight was cancelled and rebooked, then the afternoon flight was delayed. With many delays and cancellations plaguing the Denver airport, this blog post came to mind and we did not want to get stuck in the De…

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