Why summer travel this year was a nightmare | Airlines

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There’s no scenario in which renting a car for a single day should cost $1,300. Yet, that was the price quoted to a few friends and me after our flight home was canceled earlier this month. The only flight we could find at such short notice was the day after our original car rental reservation ended, at a different airport in the same state, and the national rental car agency said there was nothing they could do about the price to extend the reservation.

This was just one aggravating inconvenience in a series of many in the days-long travel nightmare. After a restful trip to a lake in Michigan, it seemed the travel gods were punishing us for actually being able to relax: Flight after flight back to NYC was canceled by a national carrier due to “ground congestion.” I heard from other friends in other locations experiencing similar travails.

After hours of phone calls and pleas to unsympathetic customer service reps, we came up with a plan: Return the original rental car on time to avoid the $1,300 charge, and pick up a second car from a different company for $71. After another flight was canceled as we were driving to the other airport, we picked up a third rental for $300 to drive another 10 hours home, requesting refunds from the airline somewhere along the way.

There are worse things that can happen, and my friends and I are lucky that we could afford to rent a car before getting a flight refund. We were also lucky we were staying at a friend’s house for free and didn’t need to shell out even more money for an Airbnb or hotel last minute. But there are plenty of people who wouldn’t be as fortunate—or wouldn’t be close enough to drive home and still make it to their in-person jobs the next morning.

That’s to speak nothing of the simple frustration of the days-long experience. The whole time—and there was plenty of it, between the various cancellations, phone calls, and miles driven—one question kept ringing through my…

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