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Midwest Weather Mess: Navigating a Winter Storm

As we all know by now, this past weekend was a mess for air travel as much of the country was buried under snow and high winds. It was a busy day for us at Cranky Concierge as well. We were following four clients and three of them had flights canceled. That’s no surprise considering how ugly things got. Look at this snapshot I took from FlightStats during the heart of the problem.

Weather Mess via FlightStats

In the end, the three people we followed were all able to get to their destinations thanks to a little bit of creativity. Each of these stories seems to have a good lesson for anyone who gets stuck in weather and needs to try to find an alternate route. So I thought I would go through each to display lessons learned.

Lesson #1 – Always Look at Alternate Airports
One client was flying from Chicago to Northwest Arkansas for an important meeting with that big box retailed based down there. Both United and American fly the route, and this time he was on United. His flight was canceled relatively early and so was almost every other flight to Northwest Arkansas that day. There was at least one morning flight that did go, but it was too early for him to make.

We looked at connections through other airports, but we couldn’t get to the other airports from Chicago, so that wasn’t an option. We ended up finding an option to Springfield, Missouri at 6p that was still showing is going so we consider that since it was less than 100 miles away. In the end, the client decided to go to Tulsa instead which is also less than 100 miles. Several flights to Tulsa had been canceled that day, but I had a hunch this one would go. It was the last flight of the night heading into a major maintenance facility. My guess was that airplane needed to be in Tulsa. (Any American people know the answer?)

The client was doubly lucky because he had American miles that he was able to use to go to Tulsa. To make things even better, there were Saver seats available for only 12,500 miles to get down there. So, we found him a car rental and his flight made it down there without incident.

Remember, always look for alternate airports.

Lesson #2 – Don’t Trust the Airline to Find the Best Alternate
Another client was traveling from Ottawa to Boston. There’s one flight a day on Air Canada and that flight was canceled, so what did Air Canada do? The airline automatically rebooked him on the next nonstop flight available to Boston, which happened to be the next day. That wasn’t going to work, so we went online to find that there were plenty of options connecting through MontrĂ©al or Toronto. The system simply didn’t look at that as a possibility.

In the end we sat on interminable hold with Air Canada trying to find the best option to get him to where he needed to go. When we finally got through, I asked the Air Canada agent if she thought that Toronto or MontrĂ©al was running better in the weather since they were both affected. She suggested going through Toronto so that’s what he did. His connecting flight ended up being late but he did get into Boston that night as planned, in time for those morning meetings.

Remember, never trust the airline’s systems to give you the best option.

Lesson #3 – Check Your Flights Early When the Weather Goes South
The last passenger whose flight was canceled actually wasn’t traveling on Sunday at all. He was traveling on Monday morning, but it was the first flight out. Normally we wouldn’t look at early morning flights until the evening before, but in this case with all of the weather issues on Sunday we decided to start looking early. When weather goes bad, cancellations start early.

Sure enough by mid-day on Sunday, his flight on Monday morning had already been canceled. In this case Delta (the airline he was on) had auto-rebooked him on the next best option on Delta, which was through Atlanta to get to Florida. Unfortunately this still arrived later than originally planned and our client was going to miss his appointment.

We were able to call Delta and even though it was a weather delay, the airline was willing to put him on another airline. In the end, he flew nonstop on American at a slightly earlier time than his original Delta flight, easily making his appointment.

Whether this would’ve been possible had we not looked into options the day before is unclear. That later it gets, the better the chance that any seats on other flights would have been taken by someone else.

I know a lot of people were stranded on Sunday as cancellations were massive. Fortunately this was a lower travel time. Had it happened one week later during the Christmas rush there wouldn’t have been very many options for anyone. But hopefully if you were stuck on Sunday you were able to find a good option and get home. If not, keep some of these options in the back of your head for next time.

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