Plan B-elow zero: Winter air travel tips

Winter travel is always tricky. As much as you want to escape somewhere sunny or need to get from point A to B, Mother Nature doesn’t always make the journey an easy one. Snow, sleet and ice, or a messy mix of all three, can toss wrench after wrench into travel plans and cause frustratingly long delays. If you’re planning to travel this winter and want to make the process as painless as possible, here are a few things to consider before you book your flight (which you found on Cheapflights.com, of course) and while you’re en route.

Fly in the morning

sunrise from aircraft window

Take early morning flights in winter. Saad Faruque, The first sun via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

More often than not, if there’s going to be a delay it will be later in the day or into the evening when there are typically more flights out and the tarmac can get busy. By booking your flight in the morning you may minimize your chances of getting stuck.

Build in extra time

small alarm clock

Build extra time into your winter travel schedule. Kalyan Chakravarthy, Tick tock via Flickr CC BY 2.0

During the winter, giving yourself more time than you think you need is essential. You never know what’s around the next corner weather-wise, so having a built-in buffer can prove to be the difference between a flight missed and a flight successfully boarded.

Try to get a direct flight

jetliner taking off

Choose direct flights. Bernal Saborio, A330 via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Booking a direct flight isn’t always possible depending on where you’re going and when, but being able to avoid a layover can be a huge blessing during the winter. Because, let’s face it, if you’re headed to a beach destination where there’s zero chance of snow, a connection could land you in Chicago, where you may very well see a storm. So, if it works for your budget, see about doing what you can to fly direct.

Connect in hubs less likely to see weather delays 

airport terminal

Hub airports with good weather are a smart choice. N i c o l a, Charlotte Airport via Flickr CC BY 2.0

If you can’t avoid a connection, do your best to ensure your layover is in a city that won’t likely be hit with an ice storm, like Phoenix, Ariz., or Charlotte, N.C., for example. Avoiding the northeast hubs for winter travel connections will drastically improve your chances of getting to your destination (ideally, a warm one) on time.

Search for flights to Phoenix

Stay ahead of the weather

ios weather app screenshot

Check, check, check the forecasts! brownpau, Weather app via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Waiting until a storm hits to start making your contingency plans means you’re trying to make those plans alongside countless other disgruntled, displaced passengers. But, by checking the weather early and often you have a better chance of staying ahead of any weather systems that have the potential to derail your plans. The sooner you know a mega storm is brewing and likely to cause delays, the sooner you can get rebooked on an alternate flight. Download a weather app and follow your airline on social media (checking often) to keep abreast of any potential issues.

Book just-in-case hotel rooms for unexpected delays

Sheraton hotel external view

Avoid sold-out hotels by booking contingency rooms. Kevin Dooley, Sheraton Hotel via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Know you’ll be connecting in a city that’s notorious for bad weather? You can save yourself a headache and avoid cramming yourself into an airport seat to get some shuteye by booking a hotel room as a contingency plan. Most hotels don’t charge your card until you actually check in, so you could book a room at an airport hotel as a just-in-case precaution. Hey, it beats sleeping in the airport during a delay, and it beats fighting other tired travelers for hotel space. (But, be sure to check the hotel’s cancellation policy so you can cancel your room if it’s not needed without incurring a charge.)

Splurge on a lounge pass

couple outside of airport lounge

Wait out any delays in airport lounges. Holidayextras, Lounge via Flickr CC BY 2.0

If you’re dealing with a delay and you know you’re going to be stuck at the airport for hours, stave off as much stress as you can by hightailing it to an airport lounge. That way you’ll have comfortable seats, reliable Wi-Fi, snacks and drinks and, in many cases, hot food and showers. Staying as calm as possible during weather delays is key to sailing through relatively unscathed. Staying out of the crowded main terminal can help.

Be as informed as possible

airport de-icing crew

Stay informed to avoid stormy surprises! Cliff, A snowy Chicago O’Hare Airport via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Leading up to your flight, if it looks like there’s a good chance delay-causing weather is coming, start getting your ducks in a row by arming yourself with information you can use to improve your situation should things go awry. This means knowing which airports are the least likely to be affected by inclement weather in case you need to be rerouted. A site like FlightStats.com can be useful and allows you to search global cancellations and delays for the day ahead (as well as up to 30 days previous). By searching for airports that are unaffected by delays, you can have at least some control over the situation and request to be rerouted to an airport that isn’t dealing with weather-related issues, then to your final stop from there.

Now that you’re in the know, start planning that winter getaway. And when it comes time to start packing, here’s how to pack for air travel in the winter.

Main image: Unsplash/ Dino Reichmuth

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