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How to Weather-Proof Your Vacation

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When bad weather in Boston snowed in Alabama-born writer JoBeth McDaniel, she had to extend her hotel stay—and had a nasty surprise. “My hotel tried to charge me three times the rate I'd been paying for the same room,” she said. Fortunately, she knew that arbitrarily raising rates above the advertised price—even in weather emergencies—is illegal in that state, so the hotel manager backed down. “He seemed shocked that a woman with a Southern accent knew about that law,” she said.

Weather gouging—which is illegal in Texas, Florida, California, and many other states—is one of the potential downsides of a cancelled flight. And of course, thousands of flights are canceled every year, leading to tens of thousands of travelers stranded, by snow, ice, summer thunderstorms, and even skies full of Icelandic volcanic ash.

The best way to prepare for such an eventuality? Consider well in advance what you would do and what you might need if your flight was grounded.

First and foremost, always stay on top of the weather forecast and prepare accordingly. For financial support in the event of delays and cancellations, consider whether you’ll need travel insurance (you probably do), and buy it before you leave home. At the airport, have a carry-on with the essentials you would need if you were stuck in the terminal overnight. Have your airline’s phone number programmed into your phone so you can call the reservations center to rebook rather than wait in a very long line with other confused, clueless, and probably angry passengers.

And you can learn from the misadventures of fellow travelers. For example, what if your flight is canceled but others are still taking off? You might try rebooking a creative itinerary that will skirt the bad weather and allow you to reach your destination, albeit in a roundabout way. That was the strategy used by Jon Williams, chief technology officer for Flat World Knowledge, a New York textbook publisher. But he wouldn’t try it again.

“After my flight from JFK to Fort Lauderdale was canceled, I jumped a flight to Dallas, thinking myself smart, only to be handed a blanket as I arrived in the Dallas airport at 2 a.m.,” he recalls. “Not giving up, I went from gate to gate and found a flight just leaving for Orlando. I arrived there around 4 a.m. and ended up sleeping for two hours in the airport terminal. I finally got to Fort Lauderdale, but the entire awful experience lasted 16 hours.”

Maybe the best piece of advice is to maintain a friendly, positive attitude. If nothing else, it may keep your spirits up. Besides, says Williams, there’s no practical alternative. “Don’t get mad,” he says. “It doesn’t help.”

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