Winter Travel Survival Guide
NEW YORK ( MainStreet) The miseries of travel multiply in winter - with some ill-prepared travelers finding themselves stranded in airports for days on end during snow emergencies.
But a bright fact: prepared travelers win this Darwinian game, because they know the survival secrets.
The other fact: you need to know them too. Consider this: on February 4, a day of significant snowfall, especially in the Midwest, tracking site FlightAware.com said in late afternoon it had counted 1,426 flight cancellations so far that day.
Another 1,672 flights in or into the U.S. were delayed.
Some of them likely will be cancelled outright.
Then what do you do?
Tip: Cursing and screaming at the gate agent is what you don't want to do unless you like the idea of multiple overnights sleeping on plastic chairs in Cleveland's airport - and do note, in the United States, when delays are weather-related, "generally you are on your own in terms of expenses," said Brian Kelly, who runs ThePointsGuy.com. Travelers who complain sweetly may be tossed a $100 flight voucher but the big expenses - hotels, meals - will come out of your pocket when a flight is cancelled and you are stranded.
You don't want to get stranded. Period.
Look around the next flight you take. How many empty seats do you see? Right. Because most flights are flying at or near full capacity is why it can take days for an airline to re-accommodate the tens of thousands of travelers caught in a snowstorm (and, generally, weather incidents that disrupt air travel involve snow and ice, although hurricanes can do a number on travel in Florida and the southeast and thunderstorms make for travel messes in the Midwest).
Fly much at all and your day of a cancellation will come. How to minimize your pain?
Rule one: forget about calling into the airline's call center to rebook your flight, said Kelly. They are hammered. New York Times air travel columnist Joe Sharkey related in a recent column that he spent three hours on hold trying to rebook a canceled flight. Others claim even longer waits.
Related Rule: "Do your own homework and know your alternatives," said Joe Brancatelli, who blogs about business travel at JoeSentMe.com. "Don't rely on a harried gate or ticket-counter agent to know what your options are, especially on another carrier."
You could try to smooth talk the harried gate agent but, probably, the line already is dozens long. Good advice is to skip it entirely.
At the first hint of a cancellation - ideally even before the flight is cancelled - get online and hunt down your options. Be creative. Kelly, for instance, recently found himself stranded in Philadelphia - but he discovered a flight 90 miles away in Newark that would get him where he wanted to go. He got on a train and made the flight.