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How to survive summer air travel chaos: 6 tips from a flight attendant and experts

From booking the first flight of the day to contacting your airline's international customer service, here's how to fly the less-than-friendly skies.

“Your flight is at 11am. What time do YOU arrive at the airport?”

It's a question that has gone viral on Twitter, with people offering a variety of answers and opinions. And with the recent surge in flight cancellations and delays at airports, more travelers are facing this dilemma in the U.S. and abroad.

For Bobby Laurie, a former flight attendant and co-host of travel show “The Jet Set,” showing up at 7 a.m. for a noon flight out of Amsterdam provided barely enough time to board. He said it took him an hour and a half just to get to the check-in counter, with lines spilling out the airport doors and onto the highway, let alone get through security and find his gate.

Frontier flight attendant Aimee Lamay, who is based out of Tampa, Florida, said she advises people to arrive at the airport three hours before their flights, especially at a busy hub like Orlando International Airport. It may take at least two hours to get through security alone, she said.

If you're flying this summer, here are more expert tips to make your journey as smooth as possible.

Book a nonstop flight.

It’s no travel secret that making flight connections is not always a safe bet. Brian Kelly, the founder and CEO of travel site The Points Guy, said booking nonstop flights will help you get to your destination on time as much as possible.

“Any time you add in a connection, you’re doubling your chances for something to go wrong,” Kelly said.

But if you do have to book a connection, Lamay recommends building in at least three hours between each flight.

Book the first flight of the day.

Kelly described the summer chaos as having a proverbial snowball effect — and the best way to preempt that, he said, is to take the first flight out of the day. It's a move that Lamay recommends as well.

These flights are the most reliable because the delays tend to have a domino effect, impacting flights later in the day.

Related: Tips to prepare for flight changes

Know how (and when) to contact customer service.

At this point in the travel season, it’s safe to assume your trip might not go as planned. So, Kelly and Laurie both emphasized the importance of talking to customer service through many different means to ensure you’ll get to your final destination.

First, there are more ways to contact customer service than just calling a company's U.S. phone number. Kelly suggests ringing foreign numbers for the airlines — for example, the Singapore number — as they are often not as overwhelmed with calls and may be able to help more quickly.

Laurie recommends finding airlines’ handles on social media, particularly on Twitter and Facebook, and direct messaging or tweeting at the airline. Most importantly, he said, you don’t have to wait until the last minute to contact the airline — sometimes, it’s helpful to start messaging the airline while you’re still in the air if you know that you will be missing your connecting flight, for example.

“Flight schedules are not 100% back to where they were pre-pandemic. There’s less planes flying, and because travel rebounded so fast, those planes are full,” Laurie said. “So it might end up being two to three days before they can find an empty seat for you.”

Put a tracker in your baggage.

With so many flight delays and cancellations, you may expect to lose your baggage at some point in your travels. While some airlines track bags for you, with airports being overwhelmed with demand, they might not be able to find your bags until they turn up at your final destination.

That's why Kelly suggests putting an Apple AirTag or some other tracking device inside your checked bag. This way, you can track your bags from your phone and work with agents at the airport to find your luggage if it gets lost.

Prepare for a long journey.

With so many canceled flights and missed connections, Lamay advises having plenty of resources to sustain you and entertain you in anticipation of a long travel day. Whether that's downloading movies on your phone or buying toys from the Dollar Store for your kids, it’s important to make sure you have something, she said.

Lamay also said she recommends packing snacks and an empty water bottle to fill up in the airport after making it past security to make sure you have sustenance while waiting for a delayed flight or spending time taxiing on the runway.

Be flexible — everyone is in the same boat.

Above all, it's important to expect that your flight might not go as planned and to remain flexible.

“If you have an important business meeting or an important event … you shouldn’t be traveling the same day,” Laurie said. “You should be giving yourself a day or two in front and behind just to make sure you’re going to get there.”

Kelly added that things inevitably will go wrong — what’s more important is knowing “how to tackle them when they do.”

As a flight attendant, Lamay said she greatly appreciates it when travelers are kind to the flight crew. She added that it’s important to have a backup plan and to get to know the area where you might be stranded.

“Everywhere is short-staffed, so people need to take that into consideration and have patience,” she said. “And hey, don’t complain about it, apply! We need people.”