How to Survive Flying Through This Week’s Historic Storms and Other Weather Events

I went on television earlier today to talk weather and navigating flight delays and cancellations.

I’d sum up my advice as, expect the unexpected, be proactive, and be nice.

There are five basic things to do to travel well through flight delays and cancellations

Be the First to Know When Your Flight is Delayed, and Come Up With Your Own Options

Expect delays, even if you don’t live in an affected area. Planes coming from the Northeast will cause delays to stack in the rest of the country. If you can avoid travel the next few days, do. Airline weather policies usually don’t mention this, but if you have a flight that cancels you can get a full refund. Instead they’re telling you that you have to reschedule flights for the end of the week, when many aircraft will still be out of position.

Don’t just check the status of your flight online. Predict delays by seeing where your aircraft is coming from, and check the status of that flight. Some airline websites show this, but you can also look this up at You can see where your plane is coming from, and where it was before that. Aircraft do get switched, but this can give you a pretty good indication early.

Then you can prepare by knowing what alternate flight options are out there. What other flights does your airline have scheduled? What about other airlines? Which flights have availability, actual seats for sale? You can make mock bookings on the airline websites to test availability, or check Expertflyer.

When an Agent Isn’t Available, or Isn’t Helpful, “Hang Up Call Back” Even In Person

The four most important words in travel are hang up, call back. Indeed, when you’re tempted not to, hang up, call back anyway.

You can get help with your reservation in lots of different ways. If one service line is long, telephone hold times are long, or the first agent you deal with is stressed or unhelpful, move on to the next method.

Ask for help at the ticket counter, gate, customer service counter, on the phone, and if you have access in the airline’s lounge. (Most lounges sell day passes, which can be worthwhile for easier help and a place to sit through long delays.)

Telephone hold times can be long. Everyone else is dealing with cancelled flights and flight delays, just like you are, and trying to reschedule future travel.

Instead of waiting on the phone, can trigger a phone call to you when it’s your turn to talk. If you can’t get through to your airline, try (using Skype, to save money on the call) your airline’s international call centers. I’ve had good luck with Delta in Hong Kong and Singapore, although note the time difference and that they aren’t 24 hours. We’re dealing with weather here, and things are clear in their part of the world.

Be the Person Agents Want to Help

Don’t argue. Be nice. Cancellations are stressful situations all around. If you smile, joke about how tough the day is, the agent — who is dealing with nothing but unhappy (and unpleasant) people – will be on your side and more likely to go extra lengths.

Don’t Check Luggage

If you don’t check luggage it’s easier to get re-accommodated. If you get stuck at a connection along the way, it’s better to have your bags with you than have to scrounge for clean underwear.

You and your bags can easily get separated in bad weather, so keep them with you.

Of course flights will be full, especially with cancellations, so that means not being the last to board. Having elite status here helps, or at least having your airline’s co-brand credit card. You don’t want to be the first to board, and sit on the plane longest. You just don’t want to be the last, so you don’t have to gate check your bags.

Do What You Have To, and Get Reimbursed Later

If you need an airport hotel night, get it. Don’t wait for the airline to give it to you, unless it’s convenient. I find the hotels airlines will give you are often not ones I really want to stay at anyway.

Ask at the baggage service or customer service office for distressed passenger rate cards, where you can get a discounted room at a negotiated rate. But book it yourself, and pay. Recognize that some expenses along the way are part of the cost of travel, your premium for self-insuring.

And then know that after the fact you may be able to get reimbursement for your out of pocket, call the credit card you used to buy your tickets as many premium card come with insurance that will pay for trip interruption expenses. Save your receipts.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. In most cases it’s the airline staff, and not the customers, who need the reminder to be nice.

  2. @jason – you’re the one that *wants something* and you can get the staff to better help you if you can bond with them over the shared predicament.

  3. Jason, that’s so not true! I find that like everyone else, the airline staff are mostly reflecting the attitude of those they engage with — and that being just basically nice can break that. Sometimes folks are just downright surly – I get that — but it certainly isn’t universal and when it comes to weather, the airline staff are just as, if not more than, frustrated as the passengers. We can’t control the weather and they mostly can’t control the outcome.

  4. Can we use this to our advantage to get status miles? I am in Las Vegas ready to go on a milage run to PHL and back again on USair. Today I was able to have them route me through Phoenix and have a 20 plus hour connection in DFW overnight which is my hometown. Is it true I will get the extra miles for the longer flights? I am on a 90 day USair status trial.

  5. @Gary and @GloverParker —

    I always say hello, please, thanks, etc. but I often get surly agents who fail to reciprocate. Once I asked a gate agent to put me on standby, and she did, but she did it without saying one word.

    Another time a gate agent handed me a boarding pass for a 30 minute connection. She told me to look at the airport monitors and find my gate. I replied that the connection was a bit tight — did she have any alternate routes? She raised her voice: “LOOK AT THE AIRPORT MONITORS AND GO TO THE GATE!”

    I said nothing. I took my boarding pass and walked away.

    My blood boils as I reminisce about the situation. It’s really awful that I and so many other polite passengers are treated this way. I wrote to the airline about the latter situation, and six months later when I returned to that airport, I found the agent still working at the gates!

  6. @Gary Good advice. The only thing I would add is that under IRROPS the routing and fare class rules typically don’t apply. So lets say you are trying to get from IAH to NYC and you find availability lets say from IAH to SEA (a bit extreme) to NYC, an agent can change your PNR to that route without penalty. Also you can potentially look at airports nearby your departure and destination. eg your original flight may have been from SFO to JFK, under IRROPS (assuming availability) you can probably rebook from SJC to EWR again without any penalty. But politely tell the agent what flights you want. I have never asked an agent what my options are. Do your prep and have the right approach and in my experience 9 times out of 10 you will pretty much get what you asked for without penalty.

  7. Where available, re-routing on a non-stop may reduce risk. (For example, I need to fly from MIA to the San Francisco area on AA on Tuesday. I switched to the MIA-SFO non-stop to avoid the risk of connections needed to fly into my preferred airport, San Jose.)

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