Baja Beat column – Flirting with disaster?

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BY JONATHAN ROLDAN

Being in the travel and hospitality business down here in Baja, it’s been interesting watching travel trends lately. We’ve hosted thousands of fishermen, friends and clients over almost 30 years here in La Paz.

I would venture to say 99.9% of them fly from the U.S. on the various airlines that serve this area.

We all know that 2020 was a Covid year. Air travel, or any travel for that matter, was a disaster.

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Last year, 2021 was a bit better. Still lots of folks are hesitant to travel. Many of the travel protocols were still in place.

However, with each passing month, there’s no disputing that an increasing number of folks were starting to get out. Travel, especially internationally, boomed in direct proportion to the reduction in Covid protocols such as masks, testing, vax cards, distancing, etc.

You remember all those, right?

This year, without a doubt, travel is in full-turbo. Covid-be-damned. Cabin fever and covid fatigue from being cooped up has travel busting at the seams.

Insofar as we own our own shuttle transportation company down here, we’ve got seven vans running daily between cities and airports. We’re pretty tuned into the comings-and-goings of airlines and airports.

In all our years doing this, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered so many canceled flights, delayed flights and lost luggage. In “normal” years, I would have to deal with an issue maybe only once or two times a month during our fishing season.

These days, it has become almost a daily occurrence.

What’s happening?

Well, of course, there are unavoidable things like bad weather. It happens.

But, am I the only one or is it happening more often?

Hurricanes, tropical storms, unusual snowstorms, tornado warnings… as I write this, I think there are two more storms already brewing in the Caribbean.

Global warming or whatever. It jacks flights up and everyone understands that it’s something that happens. I doubt any of us wants to be in an airplane anyway in bad weather.

But, what about all the other reasons?

I spoke to a good friend who just retired as a career commercial pilot.

He told me that during Covid so many airline employees were terminated as a business move. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

In hindsight, maybe not so much.

Now, the airlines are like everyone else. Can’t find enough workers and staff. This includes flight attendants, mechanics, maintenance, pilots and more.

It’s not like you can just find trained pilots or mechanics like McDonald’s finds someone to cook French fries. So, heavy bookings coupled with a lack of crews have had a huge impact.

As well, higher fuel prices have affected air travel just like they have affected our own highway driving. It costs more to fill those tanks. Issues with oil producers like Russia and the Middle East have not helped.

Another issue is simple airport logistics. Too many flights. Too many people traveling and not enough or out-date airports or airport space.

My last half-dozen flights, we sat on the tarmac either waiting to take off, waiting for enough crew or to resolve a mechanical issue. Or, upon landing, no gates available to park the plane.

For us personally, running a tourism-based operation here in Baja, it has often been a nightmare for us, let alone our haggard travelers.

Flights getting canceled. Late planes. Lost luggage. Re-routing have become an almost daily occurrence. It’s become as common as that salty bag of peanuts they now give you on flights.

We’ve pretty much come to almost expect it. All day, I monitor my emails, texts and phone calls expecting to hear that someone missed their flight, or lost their luggage or will now arriving at midnight.

A couple of tips, especially with holiday travel looming…

Minimize the number of connecting flights. The fewer changes, the less likely you’ll have a delay or cancelation. It’s like a chain only being as good as its weakest travel link.

If one connecting flight is late, it might mean you miss your next flight.

Minimize your luggage. Seems obvious. There’s less to lose.

And give yourself plenty of time. Airport delays are common at check-in or just to find parking! Don’t be that person doing the O.J. Simpson dash through the airport and being the last person to check in your luggage.

You might make the flight, but your luggage might be going to Brazil.

For Pete’s sake, pack medications and other essential health items in your carry-on bag. Or at least enough to get by.

Several years ago, one of our clients went three days before his luggage showed up. He was not doing well and his skin was turning kinda yellow. He finally admitted that his colostomy bag was in his lost luggage!

Oh, one other thing. Make a copy of your passport. Keep the original with you, but pack a copy somewhere else. You’ll thank me later.

Lastly, try not to book your flights during the busiest periods of the day.

We all like to depart at a reasonable hour. We like to arrive at our destinations at a reasonable hour.

Well, so does everyone else. It’ll mean the airport is packed. It will mean planes are packed. If your plane is late or has an issue, it’s harder to find another flight.

When you arrive, the airport will be stuffed as well. It could take ages getting through customs, immigration and rental car agencies. But, that’s another story — there’s not enough rental cars for everyone that reserves one.

And they can’t give you one until other people return their cars!

It’s a vicious circle.

Minimize the risks so you can have a smooth, safe and easy travel day.

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