If you turned on the news or skimmed social media over the holiday, you undoubtedly saw people trapped at the airport with nowhere to go. Winter storms grounded tens of thousands of passengers. To top off a bad situation, Southwest airlines had a complete and total meltdown, could not staff flights, and had to cancel thousands more flights unrelated to weather delays. What do we do? Some have suggested that there are better plans than traveling by air during the winter. Maybe you are going skiing (an activity that is far easier to do in the winter), or you want to see your family, but they live too far away to drive. Weather-related delays are here to stay. While there is no way to guard against storms completely, you can mitigate your chances of bad weather delays. I did a Zoom interview with LEX 18 after the airline meltdown and revealed my tips for ensuring you aren't one of the people stranded at the airport.
Pick Your Airport with Care
Choose flights that don't leave you open to weather-related delays. In the winter, avoid airports in cold climates. You are less likely to get stranded at the airport if you have a layover in Atlanta in January than in Chicago or New York. The worst months for hurricanes are September through November. Avoid flying into Miami or Charlotte if you can. Spending a little more on flights to increase your odds of arriving is better than sleeping in an airport for days. Don't you agree?
Don't Choose a Fly-by-Night Airline
The minuscule rates offered by discount airlines are so tempting. Flights are expensive, and getting a flight for $100 is fantastic, right? Only sometimes. Over the holidays, all the airlines had major weather-related cancelations, but airlines like Delta, United, and American Airlines were all able to recover much more quickly. These airlines have the infrastructure to staff flights and get you to your destination with as little delay as possible.
Real-Life Example: I had clients a few years ago that were honeymooning in Iceland. They wanted me to book their flights on Wow Airlines because they were $320 per person. I told them that Wow was not a stable company, and I felt uncomfortable booking. They booked British Airways at $550 per person and were glad they did. On the day they were coming home, Wow went out of business--stranding thousands of passengers. The airline didn't try to get clients to a different airline. All the passengers had to book their flight to wherever they were heading.
Get Points for Loyalty
Try to stick to a few airlines you regularly use whenever possible. I have gold medallion status with Delta, which comes with a dedicated customer service line that I can call to get rebooked if I get stranded. Join the airline's frequent flyer program even if you have no plans to use it again. They are free, and if you are a loyal customer, they will help you first.
Upgrade Your Seats
Imagine Amy and Sara are going to Dubai, and they have a layover at JFK in New York. Who is going to get on rebooked on a new flight first? Amy upgraded to business class seats, and Sara chose basic economy. Sara is going to be in line for a long time.
Insure Your Trip
Delays and cancelations are going to happen. Be prepared for the possibility every time you fly. Would you fail to insure your car or your house? Probably not. Think of your travel as a commodity and investment. Protect it like it was your home. Insurance can't prevent mishaps, but it can soften the blow.
Real-Life Example: I had clients heading to Thailand and the Maldives for their honeymoon in December 2020. The groom tested positive for COVID-19 when they arrived at the airport in Phuket (the first day of their two-week trip). And they had to quarantine for 14 days in a COVID hotel. They missed the entire trip. Since it was so late, most things were nonrefundable. They spent $18,000 on their honeymoon, and since they bought the insurance, they received a refund covering anything nonrefundable.
Big Girls DO Cry
In a pinch, tell the gate attendants your sob story. Flight attendants are people, and they want to help. So let them know if you still need to get your honeymoon. Let them know if you are pregnant or in the military. Also, be nice! No matter how boiling mad you are, don't take your frustrations out on the gate attendant. Throwing a fit will get you to the bottom of their to-do list.
Don't Front Load Your Itinerary
Have you always dreamed of seeing the Colosseum? Please don't book a tour for the day you are supposed to arrive. You will be devastated if you miss your time and can't reschedule. Think of front-loading as squeezing in activities and reservations in the first few days of your trip. Even without flight issues, it's not a good idea. Give yourselves a couple of days (especially if you are going far) to recover.
Understand the Terms & Conditions
Have you ever read all terms & conditions before purchasing something online? If you do, you would be the only person that does. You need to understand them for your travel bookings. It won't keep you from being stranded, but it will help you know what happens if you cancel without the proper notice. I do not book nonrefundable rates for personal travel, and I will only do it for clients if they understand the terms & conditions. Millions of people didn't get any money back for canceled trips due to Covid! And legally, they have no recourse if they booked a nonrefundable trip.
There is no way to guarantee that you won't run into flight cancelations and delays. It's better to assume you will. Then you can mitigate your chances of being stranded at the airport.