Avoiding Nasty Winter Travel Surprises
Did you learn anything about travel from the recent wave of storms in the Midwest and East? Certainly, despite tremendous technological development, you learned (or re-learned) that air travel is still something of a gamble during really bad weather. And that's not likely to change very much, or very fast, over the next year or two. If you're planning a trip during the remainder of the winter that involves heading to or passing through a bad weather area, the watchword is simple: anticipate. Here are eight "rules" of winter weather travel -- none new, but all worthy of repeating.
PAD YOUR SCHEDULE
Balance the possibilities of delays or cancellations against the importance of your arriving on time. If you have a "can't miss" meeting, celebration, or secondary departure, pad your schedule to allow for a major air travel snarl. That may even mean traveling a full day early. Recovering from any delay or cancellation involves a minimum of several extra hours and an extra day is not out of the question.
Try to arrange nonstop flights. Even if most flights to/from your home airport or destination airports require connections, consider driving up to several hours at either end of your trip to catch nonstop flights. Here in my home area of
AVOID TROUBLE HUBS
If you can't avoid hubbing entirely, you can at least minimize hubbing risks by routing yourself through a hub not likely to encounter severe winter weather. During the first quarter of the year,
SCHEDULE FLIGHTS TO MINIMIZE RISKS
Delays and cancellations have a domino effect throughout the day. Avoid tight hub connections. On most routes, book yourself on flights as early as possible -- the later in the day, the worse the situation gets. In a few places, however, local weather patterns may dictate a different strategy: Our airport here in
CHECK THE FORECASTS
You can sometimes spot delays before your airline officially lets you know about them. That means keeping tabs on weather forecasts several days in advance for any airport you plan to use -- departure, hub, or destination. Especially check inbound arrivals at any originating airport where you plan an early-morning departure: If the plane can't get in the night before, it won't be there for your morning departure.
KEEP IN TOUCH WITH YOUR AIRLINE
These days, airlines may "proactively" cancel flights to avoid upcoming problems. And they often waive change penalties several days before an anticipated storm.
HAVE A PLAN B
Figure that something might go wrong, and be ready with your own suggested alternative schedule rather than wait to see what your airline offers. The earlier you start to change, the more likely you are to avoid extended delays. In any major weather event, you airline is likely to waive re-ticketing fees, so be ready.
USE A TRAVEL AGENT
During bad weather, your departure or hub airport will likely be a madhouse with thousands of travelers trying to find alternate flights. Instead of standing in line at a customer service desk, have an agent working on your deal as soon as a problem arises.
No matter what, you can't avoid all problems. But at least you can minimize the risks. Anticipate.
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