It looks like a storm’s blowing through the airport, and so are you -- on a trip that can’t be rescheduled. When it’s you vs. inclement weather, it might seem like there’s not much you can do. But here are a few expert tips to make flying during a storm as speedy and stress-free as possible.
Before you book tickets
Book an early morning or late-night flight.
“Airlines are much more likely to make sure their first or second flight [of the day] gets out,” explains Michael McGilligan, general manager at the O’Hare Hilton, who flies approximately 100K miles a year. "Same with late night flights."
Because morning flights set the itinerary for the day -- and late night flights for the following day -- it is in the airline's best financial interest to ensure that they successfully depart. This is in contrast to mid-day flights, which may have already completed the majority of their flying and pose less monetary loss to airlines if they get cancelled.
Consider booking a hotel room in advance, just in case.
If you have the means and are traveling with a family, putting money down on a hotel room may just be worth it. An airport-adjacent room can run as low as $99 if reserved in advance, McGilligan states -- and the money may be a smart wager if you know you’ll be connecting through an airport like O’Hare in the middle of a wet winter. While many purchase policies make a free cancellation unlikely in the event that you do not check in, the peace of mind in knowing you won’t have to spend the night in the airport or drive to a suburban hotel for a brief night's sleep might be worth the cost.
Purchase travel insurance.
If you’re an infrequent traveler and don’t have preferred status (and thus, a lesser chance of getting rescheduled on preferable flights), it may be worth getting travel insurance through sites like Allianz and Insuremytrip.com. This is especially true if you’re traveling internationally and/or for leisure. It can also come in handy should you get separated from your luggage amid re-booking.
Beware of preemptively rescheduling flights.
Sometimes, even in the face of delays, staying on your flight might be the quickest way to get where you’re going. When there’s a large storm rolling through, odds are that it’ll affect all flights in proximity similarly. By the time you re-book yourself on a flight a few hours ahead, you may be facing even greater delays than if you had stayed on your original one.
At the airport
Use apps to track incoming flight progress.
“Flightaware.com will email you alerts when a plane is 45 minutes from landing, or when a flight plan has been filed,” McGilligan explains. A flight plan is the basic itinerary filed by a pilot prior to departure; if one hasn’t been filed a half hour prior to the posted takeoff time, the flight will likely be delayed and other delays might follow. Flightaware.com is also available as an app. Some airlines’ apps, like United and American, also help on this front.
Follow the flight crew.
If the flight crew is at the gate in preparation for boarding, you’re probably in the clear. If they’re on their phones or, worse, headed back to the lounge, you’re probably in for a postponed boarding.
If you do have to re-route your flight amidst mass cancellations, avoid doing so at the departure gate.
Odds are, airline attendants at the gate are already dealing with a long line of frustrated passengers who they are trying to accommodate. Look for where the crowd is headed, and move against it, McGilligan explains. It’s usually faster to visit the customer service centers at the airport or even backtrack through security to the check-in gate, where airline staff will be better able to search for flight options.
If you need to book a hotel last-minute, call first.
Many airports have connecting hotels (like the O’Hare Hilton or the Philadelphia Airport Marriott), which will book up quickly. Beyond that, search for those in closest proximity to the airport. Once you’ve identified a list of accommodations, call the front desk directly rather than using aggregator websites, says McGilligan. And never show up to a hotel without a booking. Amidst mass flight delays, the hotel that had vacancies a half hour ago can be booked up by the time you arrive.