How to Weather-Proof Your Vacation
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, and summer thunderstorms.
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.”
Know What to Expect
Check historical weather patterns for your origin and destination, before you book your trip, at Weather Underground.
Sign Up for Weather Alerts
Just tell Weather.com where you’re traveling, and the site will send you an e-mail or text if severe weather threatens your destination.
If you have to make one or two stops en route to your final destination, you’re more likely to be impacted by bad weather. And remember that a direct flight (one or more stops without changing planes) is not the same as a nonstop.
Travel Early in the Day
Book a morning flight. Airlines may postpone takeoffs until there is a gap in the storm system. But if your flight is among the last at night, the airline is more likely to cancel the flight altogether.
Get Flight Status Updates
Sign up for flight status notifications from flightstats.com or from your airline. They’ll send updates to your smartphone in the event of delays or cancellations.
Check Other Flights
Don’t assume every flight to your destination is being scratched just because yours was. Call your travel agent to check. Read the departures board and call competing airlines that may still continue flying to your destination or nearby. Be aware, though, that a new, last-minute airfare will probably cost more than the refund you’ll be owed for the canceled flight.
Carefully Pack Your Carry-on
You may end up waiting for hours, or even overnight, for bad weather to clear.
Always pack stuck-in-the-terminal clothing and amenities in a carry-on bag, including toiletries, eye mask, reading material, water, snacks, and a light sweater or jacket.
Ask the Airline for Food and Lodging
In the event of a long delay, always ask for meal vouchers or accommodations. Unfortunately, airlines aren’t obligated to offer them in the event of weather delays and cancellations, though they’ve been known to sometimes do so. Otherwise, ask if you can buy a day pass to their business-class lounge, where you’ll be more comfortable during a lengthy interruption.
Use Your Mobile Wisely
Your mobile device is a travel tool. Use it strategically (and don’t forget to keep the charger in your carry-on). Program in your travel information like your passport number and reservation codes, along with phone numbers and web addresses for your airline, hotel, and travel agent.
Rebook Your Flight Wisely
If your departure is scrubbed, you might be inclined to rebook on the very next flight you can get. But that won’t do you much good if that one gets canceled, too. You may be better off if you rebook for a time and/or day based on the prediction of better weather, so continue to monitor the weather on The Weather Channel or online.
Extend Your Hotel Stay
If the airport shuts down before you check out of your hotel, immediately call the front desk and book another day or two, as necessary. If it has already sold your room to someone else, ask for the front desk’s help in finding you lodgings nearby. Watch out for price gouging—and complain if a hotel tries it. It may be in violation of state or local laws or in violation of a hotel chain policy.
Use a Travel Agent
Someone who is not caught up personally in a dramatic travel delay may have a calmer and broader perspective. Travel agents have that. They also have access to inside information that most travelers don’t.