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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Weathering Winter Travel

With wicked winter weather whistling through the Midwest and Southeast (as it is wont to do in January), several airlines are once again proactively cancelling flights and encouraging ticketed customers to rebook itineraries. They are also waiving certain change fees.

During the last huge storm in Washington, DC, I was called upon by local television stations to give advice to airport-bound travelers. Given this week’s weather forecast, said advice bears repeating.

1. Whenever a big winter storm is looming, either in your hometown or anywhere in the country (storms in the East or Midwest can snarl air traffic as far west as Hawaii), go online or call your airline to check on delays and cancellations BEFORE going to the airport. There is absolutely no sense standing in long lines at the airport when it is just as easy...or easier...to monitor and rebook travel from the comfort of your Laz-E-Boy.

2. Especially in the winter, fly non-stop whenever possible. Note: Direct is NOT non-stop. Direct means there is an intermediate stop, although a change of planes is not required. For example, a non-stop flight from Boston to Denver goes from Boston to Denver. A direct flight from Boston to Denver may stop in Chicago, make this flight a triple threat for winter travel delays.

3. If you have a one-stop flight, try to travel earlier in the day. That way, if there is a snafu at Airport #2, the odds of catching a later connecting flight are greater. If you book a one-stop in the evening, be prepared to spend the night at the intermediary airport or at a local hotel.

4. Check on airline refund and rebooking policies due to weather problems. This year, airlines are being quite generous about change fee waivers and the like. Still, I can guarantee you that airlines are not going to give you free room and board in cases of delays to due acts of God and Mother Nature.

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