You’ve seen the nightmare news reports. One or two major storms. Thousands of flights cancelled or delayed. Thousands of people stranded in airports. You can’t control the weather. But there are things you can do by planning ahead to make weather delays less painful when you fly. Following a few simple tips can mean the difference between being miserable with the masses or being prepared like the pros.
1. Plan extra layover time.
Oftentimes, you’ll pick the flight with the shortest layover time to reduce the overall length of your travel day. When everything can be expected to run smoothly, that’s not a bad strategy. During those months when poor weather is expected on your route or in your travel region, though, having a three to four hour layover may give you piece of mind if it’s possible the flight into your layover airport may be delayed. And keep in mind, just because your departure airport has blue skies and mild winds doesn’t mean your departure can’t be delayed. Your aircraft likely had to fly in from somewhere, and if it flew in from somewhere experiencing a winter storm, it could still be in the air, or worse on the ground elsewhere, when you are scheduled to take off.
2. Pack overnight essentials in your carry on.
Even though many savvy flyers these days fly with only what they can fit into the overhead compartment, most flyers check a large piece and carry on a small bag. Along with your mobile devices, snacks and magazines, pack your carry on bag with what you’ll need if you have to check into a motel or spend an extended time at the airport. If your flight is cancelled outright without an immediate rebooking, or for the next day, airlines will return your checked bag. But if you are rebooked that day, they won’t. They’ll transfer your bag to the rebooked aircraft. Ten, 12, 14 or more hours is a long time to go without a toothbrush and clean socks. Some travelers may opt to just leave the airport and get some rest at a nearby hotel. Having overnight essentials makes this all less stressful and far less exhausting.
3. Be careful about booking a flight that is a “first departure” from the airport in the morning.
Now this one really depends on your departure airport and takes some paying attention to. Many, particularly small, airports located in winter storm prone areas experience higher instances of cancellations of the first flight out of the day. Why? Because the first airplane out in the morning was likely the last plane in the night before. If weather prevented it from flying in the night before, the airline will cancel the morning flight rather than ferry in an empty plane.
4. Be careful about booking a “last flight of the night” flight into your final destination.
This is the same concept as above, only in reverse. If your final destination is a small airport and storms may impact the last flight in for the night, you very well may find yourself spending the night in your layover town instead of home.
5 If you can, give yourself extra days on the inbound leg of your trip to not disrupt your plans.
Say you’re flying from New York to Miami to catch that New Year’s cruise. You’re due into Miami Airport Monday night and your ship sails on Tuesday morning. But you can’t get out of New York on Monday due to weather and your ship sails without you. Pad your departure by a day or even two to be sure you’re where you want to be when you want to be there.
6. Invest a few bucks in travel insurance.
Most on-line booking sites offer you travel insurance when you purchase your ticket. It doesn’t cost much, but like most other insurance, it’s great to have when you need it. An airline is legally bound to provide some compensation for delays, cancellations or disruptions caused by something under their control, like mechanical issues. Not so with weather. Travel insurance is your only way to get back what the weather cost you.