If you’re traveling somewhere north of the equator this winter and haven’t checked the weather forecast, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?
Consider this past Thanksgiving. A major winter storm blew up the East Coast and caused more than 600 flights to be cancelled. And that was a moderately severe, relatively localized storm. Consider some of the storms in our companion article.
Of course, a cynic could argue that a bad run of pollen could cause the airlines to preemptively cancel 600 flights, but this is no time to be snarky. We’re talking holiday and/or winter-getaway travel here.
If you were supposed to be on one of those 600 flights, what could you have done to get to your destination – and short of that, soften the blow a little bit?
Here are some suggestions on how to deal with the specter of flight delays and missed connections during busy travel times, along with a blatant plug for what is nonetheless a valuable winter-travel tool.
- Be flexible. We admit this is advice that can easily fall into the no-help-at-all category, because when the fam is opening presents in Albuquerque, getting to Amarillo just doesn’t cut it. But, if you can get to Amarillo and rent a car and drive to Albuquerque, and maybe miss out on the stockings but still get there in time for the eggnog, isn’t that better than not getting there at all? It is, and here are a couple of paths toward scoring that win.
- Avoid regional air carriers. Of the 600 flights cancelled over Thanksgiving, USA Today reported that more than half were “on regional carriers like Shuttle America, ExpressJet and Republic.” There are reasons for that. The airports these carriers fly into may be more susceptible to bad weather, they may lack the quality and quantity of weather-removal equipment, there are issues with getting the planes out of those airports and back to the hubs, and there are simple issues of priorities. If a major airport has to choose between a 40-passenger culvert with wings going to Poughkeepsie and a 300-passenger flight heading to O’Hare, it’s going to prioritize the O’Hare flight, in part because a lot of those travelers are headed elsewhere. The people flying to Poughkeepsie are pretty much staying in Poughkeepsie. So if you can drive or take alternate transportation from a large regional airport to your destination, do it. Your chances of getting there are significantly greater.
- Plan your Plan B. Too many travelers say, “Yeah, I know I might be delayed, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.” No. Cross that bridge now. Check train and bus schedules from your intermediate destination to your final destination, and check car-rental availability. If you’re really cautious, reserve a car (using an aggregator like AutoSlash to maximize your selection) or make a train/bus reservation, knowing there’s a strong likelihood that you’re going to cancel that reservation. The more you line up now, when everyone’s thinking clearly, the better off you’ll be when trouble hits.
- Plan for the worst. Suppose you’re flying to Little Rock through Memphis. Take 10 minutes and ask yourself, “How would I spend Christmas in Memphis?” (For us, this is our idea of Christmas dinner in Memphis.) Check out hotels and attractions. Think a little bit about some of the worst-case scenarios; at the very least, you’ll get some good ideas for your next pleasure trip.
- Pack for the worst. This is the time when you want to have the little bottles of toiletries and an extra pair of socks in your carryon. In fact, if you can swing it so you have no checked luggage, do it. Luggage is the first thing to get discombobulated when flights go haywire, so carry the essential stuff you need with you. If anyone’s going to understand you wearing the same shirt two days in a row, it’s your family.
- Get AirCare. AirCare from Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection will pay you if your flight is delayed or you miss a connection (important note: but not if your flight is cancelled), which is sweet, but more importantly, AirCare comes with ‘round-the-clock travel assistance. That means BHTP will handle the heavy lifting of finding you new connections or alternate transportation, or anything else travel-related that comes your way over this crazy weekend – all for just $25. Stop a minute and think of the blood-pressure-accelerating aggravation that comes with a weather-induced travel problem. Isn’t it worth $25 to have a team of people on your side steering you through the slop?
Travel safe this winter. And fly happier, too.