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The FAA system outage reminded us why you shouldn't violate 1 of the biggest unwritten rules about cruise planning

11 Jan 2023
Jenna DeLaurentis

If you're flying to your cruise, take heed of what happened today as an important reminder of what not to do.

Mariner of the Seas anchored

Today’s air travel fiasco following a Federal Aviation Administration computer outage affected over 8,000 flights today (and counting), and it reminded us why it’s important to fly to your cruise port the day before your cruise begins.

One of the absolute worst mistakes you can make when planning a cruise vacation is to fly to your embarkation port the same day your cruise begins.

Airline delays, cancellations, and other unexpected problems are common, so it’s crucial to plan enough buffer time with your flights to ensure you can make it to the ship on time.

What happened this morning at the Federal Aviation Administration?

Flights in the United States were grounded Wednesday morning following an overnight computer outage at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The FAA’s pilot alerting system crashed, leading the agency to perform a hard reset of their system around 2 a.m.

The cause of the problem is still unknown, but there has not been any evidence of a cyber attack.

Around 7,100 flights in the United States were delayed Wednesday and over 1,100 canceled due to the outage, according to Flight Aware.

According to the FAA’s 7:15 a.m. EST statement, the agency “ordered airlines to pause all domestic departures until 9 a.m. Eastern Time to allow the agency to validate the integrity of flight and safety information.”

Just an hour later, at 8:15 a.m. EST, departures were already resuming at Newark Liberty (EWR) and Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson (ATL) airports. By 8:50 a.m. EST, normal air traffic operations were resuming across the country.

Despite departures resuming, it’s possible the outage will affect flights through Friday. The ripple effect caused by today’s grounding of flights may affect millions of passengers this week, many of whom will be forced to cancel or rebook trips.

After so many flight delays today, this is a great opportunity to remind those planning a cruise that booking air travel correctly can make the difference between making and missing your cruise vacation.

Don’t fly to your cruise port on embarkation day

Galveston terminal entry

There are too many unpredictable scenarios with air travel. Weather delays, missed connections, and yes, even a computer outage by the FAA, can potentially occur on any travel day.

Flying to your cruise port on embarkation day is risky, and you’re risking missing your cruise by doing so. A cruise ship will not wait for one passenger with a delayed flight when 5,000 other passengers are onboard and ready to set sail.

Related: The 20 worst cruise mistakes that will ruin your cruise vacation

Because of this, we always urge passengers to fly in at least one day before the cruise begins. By flying to your embarkation port the day or evening before, you have much more wiggle room in your flight schedule. If your first flight is delayed and you miss a connecting flight, you can always be placed on a flight later in the day. 

Likewise, if your flight is unexpectedly canceled, having 24 hours before your cruise departs gives you time to figure out an alternative way to the cruise terminal.

Here are a few additional ways to minimize the chance of travel delays when booking airfare before your cruise:

  • Book a direct flight whenever possible
  • Don’t book a layover shorter than 1 hour. If your first flight is delayed even 30 minutes, you may not catch the second flight on time.
  • Book flights earlier in the day. There’s often a ripple effect of delays throughout the day as incoming flights arrive late. Booking the earliest flights of the day can help negate this issue.

Although you’ll have to pay for a hotel by arriving ahead of time, spending $200 on a place to stay for the night is much preferred to spending $2000 on a cruise only to miss the ship because of a travel delay.

As a plus, flying in early means you have extra time to explore your embarkation ports. Many of Royal Caribbean’s embarkation ports are located in the country’s most intriguing cities, from Miami to Los Angeles and New York. These cities make the perfect place to kick off your vacation one day early.

Other considerations to make when planning travel to your cruise

Promenade deck

Outside of booking a flight the day before your cruise departs, there are a few other ways you can make your cruise vacation go much more smoothly.

First is to book your cruise with a travel agent. Following a major delay like the FAA encountered today, chaos can ensue with thousands of people calling airlines and cruise lines.

If you book your cruise with a travel agent, they can be the ones calling Royal Caribbean and figuring out an alternative scenario for your vacation plans. A travel agent should not cost you anything extra, meaning you have access to their helpful resources at no additional cost.

Related: Top 5 things to look for in a good travel agent for your cruise vacation

Galveston cruise terminal with Allure of the Seas behind it

Travel agents can be a lifesaver in stressful situations such as what happened today at airports across the country.

Another thing to consider is purchasing travel insurance before your cruise. While you may not end up using the insurance on your vacation, it’s always better to be prepared rather than need travel insurance when you don’t have it.

Travel insurance covers you from the moment you leave for your cruise vacation until when you return home. Depending on the plan, you should expect travel insurance to cover airline delays, cancellations, lost luggage, injury or sickness, and medical treatment onboard your cruise ship.

If you cruise frequently, you may even want to consider an annual travel insurance plan, which can cost as little as $125-300 per person.

Related: Should you buy annual travel insurance plans?

We recommend the following travel insurance companies for your cruise:

  • Allianz Travel Insurance (great for annual plans)
  • AIG Travel Guard
  • Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection
  • Travelsafe Insurance

The Bottom Line

With so many flight delays and cancellations today, the Federal Aviation Administration outage served as a reminder to never book flights the same day your cruise begins. Far too many people risk their entire cruise vacation by booking a same-day flight, and in our opinion, it's never worth it.

As you plan your next cruise vacation, be sure to book flights that leave plenty of time for you to make it to your ship in time. After all, it's much better to spend an extra night by the beach in Miami than to start your vacation stressed about missing the ship!

Jenna DeLaurentis enjoys exploring new ports of call around the world on a cruise ship, learning about new cultures, discovering beautiful landscapes, and trying diverse cuisine. She loves to get active while at port, whether cycling through mountains in the Caribbean or scuba diving under the sea.

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