There was a steady stream of bad weather across the U.S., with snow and ice in Dallas and in other parts of the country there are blizzards and tornadoes.
I always recommend checking your flight status before you head to the airport and this is especially important when bad weather hits. If your flight is cancelled the worst place you can be is at an airport and if you don’t have a boarding pass you can’t even get through security. You don’t want to get stuck waiting in line to be re-accommodated, or stranded there overnight. Instead, call the airline to get a new flight from the comfort of your home or hotel room.
One major improvement I saw this past year, is that the airlines were cancelling flights faster and giving customers quicker notice of flight changes and cancellations. Signing up for airline flight notification is one of the best ways to keep up to date on the status of your flight. If you have a smartphone, I prefer the instant notification of text messages and email or phone notifications are also options. In most cases you can sign up for all three options.
Printing your boarding pass at home is a great way to save time at the airport, especially if you are not checking bags. If you are checking bags, you better keep an on time schedule because you won’t be able to check bags if you are late. If your airport requires you to check-in at least 30 minutes ahead and you get there 29 minutes before your flight, the kiosk will not print your boarding pass.
If you are just bringing a carry-on, printing your boarding pass at home gives you a little extra time if you are running late. That has helped me a few times when I have been a few minutes late and I always pray that the TSA line is short. Some airports require you to check in at least 45 minutes in advance, so if you check-in online and print your boarding passes ahead, it gives you some wiggle room.
Anytime you are flying, the chances of taking off on time are better in the morning and the first flight of the day is the most likely flight to be on time. The exception to this is if the flight crew came in later than planned the night before, because there are mandatory rules about the flight crew getting enough rest.
When flights are late, it causes a domino effect for later flights using the same aircraft, so the later you depart, the more likely you will arrive later than scheduled. Some late evening flights are never on time because the delays snowball. We have seen many airlines pad their flight times to be able to make on-time performance, so you can depart late and make up time during the flight. One flight I was on to New York arrived an hour early because we left on time, but it had this kind of padding.
I don’t recommend flying out on the last flight of the day because if the flight is cancelled, you probably won’t get to your final destination that day. Even if you can get to a connecting airport, there may not be any more flights departing from that airport to your final destination.
If the airline cancels your flight altogether, the ticket becomes almost like carte blanche and the standard change fees are waived. You can take your trip at a later time, or if you decide you don’t have enough time for your trip, or the weather will be too bad, you are entitled to a 100 percent refund.
Sometimes the airlines have no control over delays and cancellations and if you are at the airport, the agents want to re-accommodate you as fast as possible because you are a potential complainer until they get you out of their hair. If they could get everyone from point A to point B on time they could make a lot more money. Believe me, everyone from the gate agent, to the flight attendants, to the pilots wants your flight to be on time.
Weather events fall under force majeure, which covers events out of the airline’s control, and if you look at each airline’s contract of carriage, their responsibility is to issue an involuntary refund if your flight is cancelled. Even though this is the case, in the event of bad weather, we do see airlines waiving change and cancellation fees and doing their best to get you on the next available flight.
Keep in mind that the next available flight does not mean the next flight since there may not be any available seats on the next scheduled flight. During the Christmas cancellations, some people didn’t get to their final destination for three or four days. Keep in mind that the airline will not be responsible for hotel or food if your flight is delayed or cancelled under force majeure.
If you are on the return portion of your trip and your flight is cancelled, your ticket is worth half the value you paid for that one-way ticket. I do not recommend getting cash for this value because no advance purchase tickets are very pricey and it will cost you way more than the cash you get from the airline. Get a voucher instead. I was doing a show in LA a few days before the Christmas storms hit and fares between LA and New York were $700-$800 roundtrip for no advance purchase tickets, but when the storm hit those fares rose to $2,000 roundtrip because there were very few seats left.
If bad weather is in the forecast, sometimes the airline will let you leave early without paying the change fee. I have seen this happen due to hurricanes or snow storms. Once the airlines start cancelling flights, or give you notice that you can make adjustments to your schedule for no fee, leave early if you can because it can take days to get a seat if you try to get a new seat after the storm. Wait until the airlines call it and get on the horn to get a new flight, so you have the best chance of getting a new flight that departs sooner rather than later.
With the weather reports we get, we too can find out if a storm is predicted to hit our destination or from our departure city. If you try to make a change prior to the airline making the call to cancel or allow changes without a fee, in most cases the $200 change fee will apply. You may get the fees waived if you call and ask if you can get on an earlier flight when a storm is approaching, so don’t be shy about asking.
If you haven’t departed and your flight is cancelled and it will take days to get on a new flight, you can usually get a full refund. If your trip will be cut too short, it’s probably not worth going. If you’ve already departed and you can’t return for days, you better hope you are in Hawaii for those extra days.
Remember that if you decide to cancel your reservation any time of year, for any reason, you need to contact the airline before your flight departs, or you will lose 100 percent of your money. It’s better to take the $200 hit for the change fee than to lose the whole value of your ticket. The only time I don’t recommend doing that is when the value of your ticket is under $200 and I call that a throw away ticket.
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