How to Get Out When a Snow Storm Strands You

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.

Bring Snacks
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.)

Be Flexible
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?

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27 Responses to How to Get Out When a Snow Storm Strands You

  1. David SFeastbay says:

    Plan ahead and make sure when you or a travel agent books your flight that you have phone numbers in your reservation for where you are staying, cell phones you will have with you, a relative who can get in touch with you etc.

    From working at an airline there is nothing worst then people who didn’t have a phone number at their destination city or call back to provide one. People never think that something will go wrong with their flight once they leave home. Bad weather on the way is known in advance and airlines will start to make plans and if they can’t contract you in advance to try and get you out ahead of time or reroute your connecting point, you may be on vacation or that business trip longer then you think.

  2. joe says:

    My recent experience cost me $115 difference in fare and I had to wait a couple hours at LAX to connect to SAN instead of the original direct flight but it was well worth it. If I had kept my original 7:30pm depart JFK – the entire weekend would have been a loss and my original fare plus time-off work completely wasted.

    When airlines start waiving change fees due to approaching storms and you’ve got a lot riding on your plans – TAKE THE HINT… get out while you still can!

  3. Steve says:

    Consider renting a car one way if your trip is less than 600 miles. Chances are, the roads will be clear before the airport opens, and you will probably get to your destination faster.

  4. Keep the phone number for the airline’s customer service programmed in your mobile phone. When the line at the gate is a mile long, you can already be on the phone (or at least in the hold queue) with someone who can help you just as well.

    When possible, use the appropriate phone number for your elite status — it should be on the back of the card you get. I’ve found the hold times to be much shorter. Hey, if you’ve flown the miles, you’ve earned the perks.

    =M=

  5. SEAN says:

    My dad has the 7-hour rule. If you can drive it in 7-hours , then it isn’t nessessary to fly. I told him 9-hours. That would be New York to either Columbus OH or Vaginia Beach.

  6. Zach says:

    @ SEAN:
    That is a ridiculous rule.

  7. Jean says:

    No matter what happens and how bad it gets, DON’T LOSE YOUR TEMPER WITH AIRLINE PERSONNEL! As Cranky says, it isn’t their fault and they’re doing everything they can. The nicer you are, the more they’ll try to help. Just think – if you were an airline agent, would you go out of your way to help someone who was yelling at you? Staying calm and being nice, even smiling and joking a little, will go far in getting you what you want.

  8. Frank V says:

    If you are in a hub that is in really bad shape, consider driving to another starting point. i.e. Chicago to Indianapolis, or NYC to Baltimore, or Portland/Seattle.

    Oh, don’t forget to check road conditions first.

    Think outside the lines! Don’t do what everyone else is doing.

  9. John says:

    Jean wrote:

    The nicer you are, the more they’ll try to help.

    WOW, That does not sound like a good customer service policy. Should not all paying customers get the same smiling service from all company employees? There is a reason the employees at the counters are called CUSTOMER SERVICE staff. I did not know that the are Customer Service If Your Nice staff.

  10. CJ says:

    As a former Flight Attendant, I always found that if you CALL the reservations number instead of dealing with the gate staff, you usually could get through easier and get a better routing, rather than with the gate staff that is being majorly overwhelmed with customers. Often there is a special desk open just for rerouting as well.

  11. Chris T says:

    Don’t check bags. You can’t get them back once they’re in, and the airlines won’t rearrange your flights. If you need a vast amount of luggage, ship it Fedex ground to your location. It’ll cost the same as giving it to the airline (WN excepted) you won’t have to lug it around and it’s guaranteed to get there.

  12. David SFeastbay says:

    John wrote:

    Jean wrote:
    The nicer you are, the more they’ll try to help.
    WOW, That does not sound like a good customer service policy. Should not all paying customers get the same smiling service from all company employees? There is a reason the employees at the counters are called CUSTOMER SERVICE staff. I did not know that the are Customer Service If Your Nice staff.

    Jean was correct the nicer you are the better treatment you could get. No one wants to be yelled at for something that is not their fault. While an agent may help the yelling person, they could go by the book and nothing more, but could ‘bend’ the rules for a nicer person and/or take more time to see what they can do for them.

    I’ve been the one getting yelled at before so know the yelling person may find themselves in the middle seat on a connecting flight but the nicer person in an aisle seat on a nonstop. Both were helped but guess which got better service. I can also tell you that ticket counter agents taking your bags will ‘forget’ to place them on the belt if you are treating them like dirt and the old timers who put those color bag tags that they used to use might just redo the one you saw them put on your bag.

    Some people may yell and scream thinking they will get what they want just so the agent can get rid of them, but that agent will get back at you in a way you may not know about.

  13. Jean wrote:

    No matter what happens and how bad it gets, DON’T LOSE YOUR TEMPER WITH AIRLINE PERSONNEL! As Cranky says, it isn’t their fault and they’re doing everything they can. The nicer you are, the more they’ll try to help. Just think – if you were an airline agent, would you go out of your way to help someone who was yelling at you? Staying calm and being nice, even smiling and joking a little, will go far in getting you what you want.

    And if you do lose your temper apologize. I really my temper with an airline agent once. (She was getting the run around from the operations staff) APOLOGIZE, they’re human too, and will appreciate the fact that you realize you went over the line.

  14. Cliff says:

    Cranky, this should be circulated to all the networks as it is a refreshing view of the reality of airlines, airports and passengers when there’s very little either of the three can do about what’s going on. Nice work.

  15. brian says:

    All great tips. Some things can’t be helped and yelling at airline staff is NOT going to help anyone.

    My concern is: What if you’re on the tarmac stuck inside the plane? I know, I know, whole different situation and blog post…

  16. Also, keep your phone charger with you. Yesterday my battery died after on-hold with orbitz for more than 1 hour. (by the way, orbitz’s on-hold music is the most boring thing in this world)

  17. robert says:

    You forgot the obvious: hand it all over to Cranky Concierge and get him to sort it out for you!

  18. scott says:

    great blog…a good friend of mine was flying JFK-LAX on AA in F on Saturday and her flight was cancelled. The next flight they could get her on was on Sunday at 7pm in J…not awful, but definitely not ideal. I started checking expertflyer for her and noticed that while everything was zeroed out many seats were not taken…we know that expertflyer doesn’t tell you if the seats are just unassigned yet but most of the time I find those seats actually unsold even if the rep on the phone tells you differently…so i pulled a cranky concierge and just monitored things for her. Another option was that she could come to MIA and fly out Sunday morning to LAX as there were plenty of open F seats…however getting from NYC-MIA was not an option as everything was ‘booked’…so as flights started departing on Sunday I noticed that flights that were zeroed out before were departing with some empty seats in coach – meaning, flights were going with empty seats because people were not at the airport because reps were telling them no availability – which to their defense there was not…in any case, a bit later on Sunday i noticed a flight from JFK-SFO on Monday morning opened up 1 J seat and conveniently connected to a flight to LAX – i called her quickly and she was able to grab the seat. A couple of hours later when checking noticed the 625am JFK-LAX on Monday opened up one first seat…called her and she called AA and was able to grab the seat. So the moral is…keep checking and don’t be discouraged…also, even though they say don’t go to the airport…i told her to go! Even if she had to take the 7pm she would have been able to get on an earlier flight as flights on Monday morning were going out with empty F and J seats…

  19. Food – definitely. I’m a type 1 diabetic so having food is a necessity. (Much more so than insulin even though the movies say different.)

    In my carry-on I keep oatmeal packs and tea, (just add hot water,) raisins, powerbars, nuts and crackers – and I always grab some apples and bananas before I leave. Beats an eight dollar salad, and healthier (and more courteous to fellow pax) than bringing aboard a greasy bag of McDonald’s.

    I have an HP Mini netbook, and with enough books I’m never bored when delays occur. Fortunately I’ve never been held hostage on the tarmac – yet anyway…

  20. J Westcott says:

    hey-NEVER hurts to be nice, because? so many people are being a pain; don’t forget to use the actual Customer Service/Special Services desks if there…can do about anything you can at the counter. ALWAYS leave early if the chance comes up, especially if it’s non-stop to where you are going: remember they do NOT do this if they are not expecting chaos…and are already planning to cancel flights. make not only that hotel res as suggested, but also a rental car reservation if it might get you anywhere useful! if bad weather might strike, have your little pillow or blanket and phone charger WITH YOU-does no good if you checked it! talk to people in your area..what might they know and is it true-never too much information. Best of Luck!

  21. CF says:

    A bunch of great tips – thanks to everyone for chiming in. And yes, it is ALWAYS a good idea to be nice to people. I’ve been on the other side of that passenger assistance counter and by the time you’ve been there for 3 hours with nonstop trouble, the last person you want to help is someone who is yelling at you for something that isn’t your fault. In fact, if I get to the front of a long line during a mess like this storm, I’ll usually ask the agent if I can get him/her a drink or a sandwich or something.

    brian wrote:

    My concern is: What if you’re on the tarmac stuck inside the plane? I know, I know, whole different situation and blog post…

    Yeah, well that’s the topic for tomorrow. The DOT today announced that airlines have to let people off at the 3 hour mark of being stuck on the ground. This is not a good idea in my opinion. So let’s talk more about this one tomorrow!

  22. Darren says:

    If the first available flight is days away, consider sticking it out and going standby especially if you are at an airline’s hub. During weather events, it’s very hard for airlines to accurately project how many passengers show up, especially when inbound connections may be delayed or cancelled. You may end up getting out much earlier than those who take the earliest confirmable space.

  23. CF says:

    Darren wrote:

    If the first available flight is days away, consider sticking it out and going standby especially if you are at an airline’s hub.

    Yes, great tip Darren. I had someone scheduled to fly from Philly to LA this morning but US Airways canceled the flight. The best they could do was Philly to Charlotte tonight then tomorrow morning to LA. Ugh. She stood by and was able to get confirmed on the 825p. Ultimately, she made an even earlier one.

  24. Cranky, I’d love to see some of your thoughts re: the Europe snowstorm, which was much more epic in my opinion. It’s been all but glossed over in the news because of the East Coast.

    Re: snowstorms – one thing folks could keep in mind is to think of hubs like MSP that has a decent amount of connections and is much better to tolerate in inclement weather over another, congested, and often iced hub, like Chicago. This coming storm here says snow for us, but potentially an ice storm for Chicago. The pilots here are great in the snow, and the grounds crew are used to this weather. If you know must fly to the midwest during a snowstorm, always watch which area is going to get the real brunt! Also, I can tell horror stories about ORD in the best of weather, but that may be for another time.

    Finally, maybe you could put up a Cranky Concierge list of best bets for disabled travellers?

    Thanks, keep up with the good writing! -S

  25. SimonF says:

    A good tip if you’re stuck somewhere in the UK and are affected by one of our infamous Major Snow Events (normally about 2 inches on the ground, the lovely Aviance people at LHR trying to find one of their 2, yes, count ’em 2, de-icing rigs, and general pandemonium and chaos country-wide), is to find somewhere warm to curl up and get some well-earned rest. You’re going to be there a while, so best recharge your batteries rather than wasting energy ranting and raving over something that’s a perennial issue over here.
    It happens here every year, but we’re always staggeringly badly prepared for it. So, when in Rome, etc. Stoicism and the spirit of the Blitz…

  26. Jim Carmignani says:

    Cash, bring cash to the airport. Tipping cabbies, skycaps, hotel people makes life a lot easier when there are a bunch of angry people around.

  27. Mini says:

    @ SimonF:
    Tell me about it! The country grinds to a halt with a mere smattering of the white stuff. My brother got stuck in his car on the M1 for over 12 hours when we had a really bad lot 6 or 7 years back. If you’re not prepared for that sort of thing then you could really be in trouble. So, even when there’s the vague chance of snow in this country and you’re off in your car I’d say to take blankets, bottled water, a charged up mobile phone and something to pee in!

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