How to avoid travel headaches when winter weather hits

Winter weather wreaks havoc on travel plans. Plenty of holiday travelers can attest to that. Winter storms over the holidays cau sed 1,000 flight cancellations and almost 10,000 flight delays.

Here are a few ways to make your travel smoother when weather changes your travel plans.

— Check your flight status before heading to the airport. If your flight is canceled, the worst place to be is at the airport. 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 reaccommodated or get stranded overnight. Instead, call the airline to get a new flight from the comfort of your home or hotel room.

— Sign up for airline flight notification. One major improvement I saw in 2012 is the airlines were canceling flights faster and giving customers quicker notice of changes and cancellations. Signing up for airline flight notification makes it easy to stay updated on the status of your flight. With a smartphone, you can get instant notification through text messages, email or calls.

— Print your boarding pass at home — especially if you are not checking bags. If you are checking bags, get to the airport on time; you can't check bags if you are late. If your airport requires check-in 30 minutes ahead and you get there 29 minutes before your flight, the kiosk will not print your boarding pass.


— Take the first flight of the day. The chances of an on-time takeoff are better in the morning. The first flight of the day is the most likely flight to be on time. When flights are late, it causes a domino effect for later flights using the same aircraft. 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.

— Avoid the last flight. I don't recommend flying out on the last flight of the day. If the flight is canceled, 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.

— Be flexible. If the airline cancels your flight altogether, the standard change fees are waived. You can take your trip at a later time or get a complete refund.

— Leave early. 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 with hurricanes or snowstorms.

Once the airlines start canceling 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 one 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.

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 $150 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.

— Get in touch with the airline. Remember that if you decide to cancel your reservation any time of year, for any reason, you need to contact the airline before the flight departs, or you will lose 100 percent of your money. It's better to take the $150 hit for the change fee than to lose the whole value of your ticket.

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