Worst Case Scenario: How to Rescue Your Trip During Bad Weather

This has been one crazy winter for travel. And we’re back with a ‘crippling ice storm,’ a ‘state of emergency,’ ‘historic storm,’ a storm that ‘will make last month’s storm look puny’.

If you’re traveling this week, here are some things you can do to handle the challenges ahead in the best way possible.

  • Hang up, call back if you don’t get the answer or help you want.

  • Have the airline call you. Hold times can be long. Elite phone numbers are usually better, but during weather events those can be interminable too. Try non-U.S. call center numbers — Skype an Australia, U.K., or Singapore phone number for instance to get through. Or if your carrier offers you a call back option, have them call you back — whether you think you need to talk to them or not. You might need them two hours in the future, might as well get in the queue early (I’ll take heat for this suggestion).

  • Delay your trip if you can. Why fly into a mess if you can avoid it? Remember that you can use airline liberalized change policies, and if your flight actually cancels you can change your tickets.

    Here are airline weather waiver information, details on relaxed change policies. (HT: Joe Brancatelli)

  • Status matters, phone queues aside, it’s helpful for getting helpfulness from agents, more proactive rebooking, and higher positions on waitlists.

  • Get a hotel speculatively. Most hotels wind up sold out during major weather events. When it looks like there’s a reasonable shot you’ll be stranded, make a speculative booking (perhaps on points if the cost will be out of pocket). If you wind up not needing it, you may pay for it anyway but you’ve still won because you got where you’re going. It’s a hedge. And you can’t really know in advance if that’ll work out. If it doesn’t, you have a room.

  • Act quickly and decisively, and budget with the assumption that you’ll incur some unexpected costs. I realize that’s a tough thing to say, and for many it can be a hard thing to do. But things happen during travel and that should be built into expected cost. Those costs may be offset or reimbursed, though, by the credit card you used to buy your tickets. Call them to find out.

  • Plan to work, be comfortable, or entertained no matter what happens. Assume you need power sources and whatever other supplies to make the most of a situation.

  • At the airport you’re better off getting help inside security than in the lines outside. You’re better off getting help in the club than the main terminal. And you’re best off getting help from everyone you can. Multitask. Get on the phone while standing in line, if one person doesn’t help you move onto the next.

  • Check everything. When someone tells you that you’re set, it pays to ensure everything is re-issued properly. The more lead time you have to know any problems the better you’ll be able to adjust and correct.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. My husband’s reservation was cancelled twice on a quick overnight to DC and back. Thankfully, he is diamond and has a saint of a secretary who could be on the phone with delta while he was in air and in meetings to get his flights back. Lost his upgrades but at least he got home!

  2. Your point of getting help inside the airline club is a good one. I would also suggest be polite and open the discussion with a very brief expression of sympathy for the airline rep who is having to work so hard to deal with the mess.

  3. @Gary — In the event of a tree falling on our house in Atlanta, any guess how kind Hilton might be in waving the penalties for cancelling a 5-night award stay at the Conrad Koh Samui? It would really add insult to injury if we had to cough up a $1,000 cancel penalty on top of a $5,000 homeowners deductible.

  4. @Gary

    If an airline doesn’t have a “we’ll call you back” feature instead of waiting on hold, there are apps for iPhone and Android that will do it for you. I’m not affiliated with them in any way but I’ve had quite good luck with FastCustomer, which is free. http://www.fastcustomer.com/

  5. Learned this the hard way. Stuck in NRT this past weekend. 3 days before we were able to get to Singapore. It was horrible.

  6. @CDKing

    I proactively called before the travel notice and AA refunded my revenue ticket in a form of a travel voucher. I am a AA Plat, which probably helped

  7. Status can definitely make all the difference. I was flying SAS on LHR-CPH and my flight had been cancelled due to bad weather. They were rebooking folk onto flights the next morning and as I was only going for the weekend this would have been a showstopper. I’d checked the flight situation on my phone and asked if I could instead waitlist for the later flight that evening. They said it was full but were willing to add me to the list. They said to come back to the checkin desk in a couple of hours but with my Aegean Gold status I asked about lounge access – after checking with the supervisor they gave me a gate BP and I was able to clear security. I had a good meal in the lounge then checked back with the staff – my waitlist had cleared and they’d upgraded me to business as well 😉 Great result with Star Alliance Gold status, ironically this flight was being taken to keep it active! (originally received it as a status match from bmi)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *