Every winter there are stories of travelers shocked — shocked! — to discover their flights have been delayed, cancelled, or diverted, throwing a wrench in their travel. These snafus can be particularly pernicious when they befall business travel. Business trips in the small-to-medium business world are tightly packed, and rarely allow for more than one buffer day. A cancellation of a connection flight leaves you with three missed meetings, one or two of which you may not be able to reschedule for weeks or months.
What to do?
While fighting the forces of nature and of Air Traffic Control is ultimately futile, there are some things you can do when planning your trips to minimize the chances of a fluke. These are always good things to keep in mind, but are particularly useful during the winter, when storms in the Northeast and Midwest can cause delays and cancellations as far as Florida, Atlanta, and LAX due to planes being out of position.
1.Book the First Flight of the Day
Booking the first flight of the day brings with it several advantages. First, the plane was likely stored at the airport overnight, so you aren’t reliant on an incoming flight for your departure. Second, if you are connecting, this gives you the ability to schedule a later connection — if your first flight is delayed, you will be less likely to miss your connection. Third, when people know a storm is coming, they tend to reschedule their flights, leading to possible overbooking and the need for luggage to be checked. People tend to avoid the first flight of the day more often than later morning flights (e.g., 8 AM, 9 AM), so these flights have lighter passenger loads in general.
2. Avoid Problem-Connections
When possible, book your flights through cities that are less-likely to be affected by adverse weather. In the winter, this means avoiding the New York airports (JFK, EWR, LGA), Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago (ORD, MDW) and Detroit. Even though these storms can still cause cancellations and delays elsewhere on seemingly-unrelated flights — like an Atlanta-Dallas flight — due to displacing aircraft from the normal schedules, this will help minimize your chances overall of falling victim to Acts of God.
3. Check that Box About Updates on Your Flight Status When Booking
Most airlines will give you the chance to select whether or not you want to receive text and/or email updates about your flight status before the flight. Selecting this can help you be notified of anticipated weather-related travel issues and give you an opportunity to rebook your flight to avoid the wrath of winter. Many airlines will waive flight change fees when storms are approaching.
4. If Possible, Give Yourself a Buffer Day
If you have meetings on Monday, try to start them later in the day and fly in the day before. This way, if your flight is cancelled and you get stuck in your home city, you still have a chance to hop on a later flight and make it in the next morning before your meetings.
5. Be Honest, Kind, and Transparent
Sometimes, despite all your planning, contingency-building, and careful examination of the weather and flight patterns, you’ll get stuck. Most people understand that things happen while traveling during the winter, so let your meetings know with plenty of time. Be kind to the airline staff working your flight — they have little control over the situation themselves. And be ready for a ride — winter air travel can be stressful and hectic.
If you get stuck for long periods of time at an airport, consider a day pass at an airline rewards club — usually about $50 for the day. These clubs provide food, coffee, drinks, wifi, showers, and quiet reprieve from the chaos of an airport terminal, and can make the difference between a stressful day and a productive one.