Winter Travel Dilemmas and What to Do About Them
When you live in Canada and book flights for a trip during the winter, there is usually some degree of hoping the weather cooperates and checking the forecast every five minutes. Will I get stuck at the airport? Will my flight be canceled because of a storm? What if I miss my connection? These are all very common concerns while traveling this time of year.
A former flight attendant for a Canadian airline offered some tips for traveling during the snowy season. She wished to remain anonymous but we’ll call her Tina.
Book direct flights whenever possible
This step takes place during the trip planning phase. It’s also important to pay attention to your connection times and give yourself plenty of time between flights.
“An hour does not count as lots of [time],” Tina said. “That can easily be eaten up in the line up for the de-ice bay, I am talking, like, five hours. It might mean waiting around in an airport for a couple extra hours but you need as much margin for error as you can get.”
Tina also recommended that travelers taking a flight to get to a cruise should never, under any circumstance, take the flight on the day of their cruise.
“There is no number of hours between landing and getting your boat that is enough to make sure you get on that boat. Leave the day before and book a hotel.”
Avoid booking through third-party agencies like Expedia.
If/When something goes wrong, it makes the whole process more complicated because you sometimes have to deal with their policies on top of the airline. Bookings cannot be altered by the airline directly.
Avoid booking through multiple airlines.
Sure it can save you money but when a winter storm can blow in and affect your plans, this also complicates making adjustments and figuring out a fix is your responsibility, says Tina.
“You are not considered a connecting passenger and that second airline will consider you a no-show if your first flight is delayed. You will not be compensated,” she said. “It’s not that the airlines will not help you, it’s that they cannot help you coordinate with a competitor.”
Tina compared this situation to buying a faulty product at Winners and trying to exchange it at your local Walmart. “Would they help you? No. It’s the same when you buy plane tickets.”
Fast forward to your trip. Your flight is canceled because of a storm. What can or should you do?
The solution really depends on where you are when the storm starts or is on the way.
“Don’t go to the airport hoping your plane will magically show up,” the former flight attendant said, adding that the airline will be aware of the weather and will be working on a plan to accommodate you on the next available flight. Seating will be limited because the next flight out is likely full of passengers already, but airlines may add a rescue flight.
Check the status of your flight before you leave home, even if the weather is fine where you are and where you’re going.
Bad weather elsewhere can affect your flight, she said. “There are lots of moving parts that have to line up for your flight to happen. You need a plane, flight attendants and pilots. Those things are not attached and if any of them are stuck somewhere or coming in from Saskatoon where a big storm just hit then your flight can get canceled.”
But what if you’re already at the airport?
Tina recommends scoping out where the customer service desk is because joining the line at the gate where the CSA (Customer Service Agent) probably won’t help your situation.
You’re better off getting at the customer service desk while calling the airline’s customer service line—both should be able to help you but depending on the lineup at the airport, calling may be faster.
She also recommends not yelling at the CSA. “These people get yelled at constantly—every day—when they go to work, for things that are literally never their fault.”
However, passenger re-accommodation is becoming more and more automated so sometimes there may not be much you can actually do, Tina added. The people who make those arrangements work behind the scenes, often times not even at the airport.
“They make the decisions and yelling at the CSAs might increase your odds of getting security called on you, but it will not get you to your destination any faster.”
Your flight is delayed because of bad weather and you miss your connecting flight.
This is where the importance of pre-planning comes in.
- If you have booked both flights with the airline there is an automatic process that will accommodate you and change your flight.
- Have the app for the airline on your phone. The app is usually the fastest way to get updates about your flights.
- Be familiar with the airline’s policies. You can usually read about them on the website.
Most of the time when connections are missed, the airline will arrange for you to take the next available flight but they might not be responsible for putting you in a hotel, Tina said. However, if their policy does include a hotel stay, expect to be waiting a while they sort out hotels for a couple hundred other people who are in the same situation. You can also look into hotel options yourself.
If it’s early in the day and there are several more flights to your destination, Tina recommends holding off on the hotel. Wait and see which flight the airline can place you on.
My flight is delayed and I’m stuck at the airport for a few hours.
Here are a few tips for surviving the long wait at the gate as recommended by Tina.
- Assume you may need to entertain yourself for the next 10 hours. Bring your own charging bar or, at least, make sure your device is fully charged. (“Fights have been known to break out over outlets.”) Wifi at airports can be unreliable so preload your Netflix account or bring a book. People who knit tend to be the most content passengers waiting at the gate, Tina said.
- Bring food and water. Tina mentioned that some passengers hesitate to bring food and drink to the gate but it’s not as difficult as it may seem. “No, you cannot bring a jar of peanut butter but you can bring a peanut butter and jam sandwich.” Any food that is fully prepared is usually fine, except soup. Pasta dishes, sandwiches, and pre-dressed salad are all fine. “The only complication is if you’re flying to the US from a major airport in Canada—you might have to pre-clear American customs in Canada.” You can check the US customs website for the exact rules but in general, flight attendants avoid bringing fresh fruit or vegetables because that can be taken away and can cause delays. Cooked food is always fine.
- If crowds bother you, find a quiet spot. Look around and explore a bit. There is usually a quiet place or an empty gate somewhere. “Don’t go too far in case they change the time of your flight quickly and start boarding, but you don’t need to be right at the gate,” Tina added.
Do you have any winter travel tips to add? Add them in the comments.
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Jillianne Hamilton is the author of Molly Miranda: Thief for Hire, its two action/comedy sequels, and The Lazy Historian's Guide to the Wives of Henry VIII. She is also a graphic designer, a history enthusiast, and a dog mom. Learn more.