Winter Air Travel Tips

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I have written repeatedly and at length about excessive delays and cancellations, passenger strandings, and airport woes, and these can happen anywhere. Although there are now federal regulations to prevent delays in excess of three hours, we are essentially still at the mercy of the airlines when snow and storms strike. Below are some tips to help you avoid some of the worst weather-related air travel problems.

1. I have found that the biggest, meanest problems for travelers frequently occur at connecting airports. If your first outbound flight is canceled and you end up returning to your own home from your local airport, that’s one thing; if you are stuck in your vacation hotel hoping to get a flight home, that’s a bit worse. But when you’re stuck in a connecting airport in Texas calling hotels and praying for a place to stay, you’re in what we call yer worst-case scenario, pardner.

For this reason, you should fly nonstop whenever possible. To find nonstop flights, do all your initial flight searches with the “Nonstop Flights Only” button checked. If you also use search options like “Show Nearby Airports” and “My Dates Are Flexible,” you’ll have a very good sense of how best (and how much) to get from Point A to B without Point C for Connection.

2. If you absolutely must fly with a connection, watch your layover times carefully. If a weather delay causes you to miss your connection, you might be out of luck, as the airline is not necessarily obligated to find you a seat on the next flight, and often cannot logistically do so if flights are full or unavailable. If you have a really tight connection time and your flight is running late, let your flight attendant know, and he or she may be able to make arrangements to hold your next flight, or at least get you off your first flight quickly.

3. Again, if you must fly with a connection, check weather at your connecting cities as well as at your departure and destination airports. We all want to know what the weather is like for the departure and arrival airports (particularly if we’re traveling on vacation), but for the same reasons stated above you’ll want to know what is going on at your connecting airport as well. If the weather looks threatening, contact your airline to see if it can reroute you; it may be in its best interest to do so.

Your chances of getting on a different flight will be greatly enhanced if you’ve already done the research yourself to determine which alternate flights might work best. Don’t count on a gate agent to know about or search the schedules of other airlines.

4. Try to book your connection through a southern city where weather shouldn’t be an issue. There are no guarantees here, as northern airports tend to be better equipped to deal with winter conditions, and a snowstorm can almost wholly shut down an airport that more often suffers from too much sun. However, your odds are better in places that rarely see ice or snow.

5. Choose a morning flight, for two reasons: First, you are far less likely to have your flight affected by problems at other airports. Second, if your flight is canceled or badly delayed, your options for alternate flights are greatly increased, improving your odds for getting on a different flight by the end of the day.

6. Consider alternate airports. Very often the problem is not solely weather, but the overall volume at the airport, as many major airports are simply not built to handle the amount of volume they are taking on these days. This can be especially effective when flying out of the biggest cities that offer multiple airport choices — Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Houston — where second-tier airports tend not to be too far out of town, and are tied into the transportation grid.

7. Get ahead of the game at security. Before you even get in line, put all your gear and pocket change in a sleeve of your carry-on bag. With so much valuable stuff getting dumped into plastic bins all day, every day, it’s inevitable that some of that stuff gets left behind, dropped, damaged, broken or even stolen. If you take 15 seconds to stow everything, you’ll make the time up twice over on either side of the security gate, and won’t risk losing cell phones, wallets, keys and the like.

8. The annual holiday gift wrapping rule: Don’t wrap gifts — security will have to rip them open. With the TSA searching checked bags as well as carry-ons, this applies to all of your luggage, not just what you bring onto the plane with you. Consider shipping your gifts ahead of time or wrapping them once you get to your destination.

9. Finally, avoid peak travel dates as best you can, particularly holiday weekends.

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