A timely topic, no? The winter storm that just nailed DC, Philly, and New York over the weekend has certainly left its mark. Some of the airports actually shut down completely because the snow removal equipment couldn’t keep the runways clear. And now, there’s talk of a potential blizzard running through the middle of the country this week. It looks like the quiet fall is roaring into an active winter. Here are some tips that I used with Cranky Concierge this weekend that can help make sure you get out of town in time for the holidays.
#1 Tip: Have Patience
Forget about all the strategy tips for a second and remember this. Have patience. When a monster storm rolls through like this, it’s not the airline’s fault. The people you encounter are working tirelessly to get you out of that airport – believe me, there’s nothing they’d like more since you’re what stands in the way of them getting to go home. So while you naturally may take your frustrations out on the first person you interact with, that’s a mistake. Just go into the day with patience and realize that you probably won’t get there any time soon. If things go well, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. If not, at least you’re mentally prepared.
Travel with a Laptop
If you have a laptop, it’s a good idea to bring it with you. If things go wrong, you can log on and try to get yourself out of this mess while you wait in that 3 hour long line to see an agent.
If You See a Storm Coming, Get Out Early
If a big storm is coming, airlines will nearly always let you change your flight for free. If you can leave early, do it. Things always go better if you can get out of town early. I had a Concierge client this weekend who was flying from JFK to London Saturday night. He signed up on Friday and I suggested he get the airline to send him to Chicago on the first flight Saturday morning so he would miss the storm. It may have been out of the way, but it would have avoided problems.
Sign Up for Flight Alerts
It’s always a good idea to sign up for flight alerts directly from your airline. While they aren’t always accurate (I saw airline flight info not being updated very quickly this weekend), it can’t ever hurt to sign up.
Have a Flight Schedule handy
Just about every airline puts out an electronic version of its schedule. Keep it with you. You can always try to connect the dots and look for other options if you get stuck.
Get a Hotel
If things are going downhill, there’s a guarantee that hotels will fill up quickly. I know, for example, there was nothing near JFK Saturday night if you got stuck. So book one in advance if bad weather is coming. If you pay a slightly higher rate, you can still hold it until 6p day of arrival without penalty. If you need it, great. If not, well, get a refund.
This may sound funny, but you’ll thank me later. As was the case with this storm, some airplanes pushed back, deiced and headed toward the runway only to have to come back when conditions deteriorated. Only one problem, airplanes were landing and taking up gates so there weren’t enough to go around. That happens a lot when conditions shift, and it means that you may spend a long time on the plane. The airlines don’t want to keep you there and neither does the airport, but it’s not always possible to get you out quickly. Snacks will help – and they’ll make you popular onboard. (Think of it like prison – you can trade for cigarettes or nudie magazines as well.)
A lot of flights will have been canceled, so there will be a lot of people in the same boat as you. If it’s a busy time (as it is right now), there just won’t be enough seats to get everyone out on time. I had a call yesterday morning from a couple flying JFK to Detroit who now wouldn’t be able to go until Thursday. I found options connecting in some pretty odd places that would get them there sooner. They weren’t flexible – only wanted to go nonstop from their airport – so there wasn’t much I could do.
Again, Have Patience
Seriously, there is nothing better for your sanity than this. Set your expectations low, take some deep breaths, and do some meditating. That will serve you better than anything else.
What other tips do you guys have out there?