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Drive instead of flying for the holidays if you can, experts say

Airlines have been cancelling thousands of flights as a result of multiple factors, and it's not likely to stop any time soon.

PHOENIX — Skip the skies and hit the road this holiday season, that’s the best option to travel this year, experts said.

Since airlines have been canceling thousands of flights as a result of multiple factors, including staffing shortages, it’s best to take precautions and plan for the worst, said Nancy Melton, a travel agent at Preferred Travel Services.

“It was very challenging to travel during the holidays [in the past], so when you add COVID to it, it’s just another component,” Melton explained.

She was one of the many travelers impacted by American Airlines' avalanche of weekend flight cancellations.

Melton spent a week in Peru, vising Lima, Sacred Valley and Cusco. When it was time to head home, she found out her flight was canceled.

“They literally got me the last seat on the non-stop flight, and I was in the last row middle seat,” Melton said. “When I got back into Phoenix, the airport was really crowded. There were carousels with carriage bags just sitting there. I’m thinking that the bags got there, and the people didn’t.”

Melton said she traveled during an off-peak weekend, which helped her not be stuck in Dallas for a long period of time during her layover. But had it been a holiday weekend, she would have been delayed for more than just hours.

RELATED: Travel experts concerned federal vaccine mandate could impact holiday travelers

How to travel this holiday season

With the uncertainty of flying, experts said the one thing travelers must pack is patience.

And if driving is an option, that might be the best and less stressful way to get to your destination, Angela Rice, co-founder of Boutique Travel Advisors, explained.

“When we talk to our clients, the advice that we give ‘if you can’t be flexible, right now is probably not the best time for you to travel to destinations that require you to deal with air travel,’” Rice said.

If flying is necessary, you want to arrive early so you can be the first round of people to be rebooked if you’re flight is canceled, Rice said.

This year, travel insurance is a must, Rice said. She highlighted that policies not only cover your money if you must cancel a flight, but they cover baggage delays if you need to buy items when stuck at a layover.

Rice said having travel insurance also gives you protection if you become ill, like covering medical expenses if you contract COVI-19 during your vacation.

“Build into your planning enough time to lay over any potential delays as much as one to five hours,” Rice said. “Consider a trip where you can flight or drive direct to avoid problems.”

AAA is expected to release its report on how many people the agency expects to travel this holiday season next week.

“It’s important to pack your patience and given the environment that we are in right now, make sure that you book early and keep in mind that if you are flying, make sure you know that you are susceptible to cancellations and delays that we are seeing,” AAA Arizona’s spokesperson Aldo Vazquez explained.

Vazquez said travelers should review the airline's policies for cancelations, rebookings and delays to be better prepared if that situation were to present itself.

“You really have to learn patience and flexibility when you’re traveling now, Melton said.

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