It’s that time of year again: the season of the snowpocalypse. Winter Storm Jonas is approaching the East Coast, threatening blizzaster in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, as well as flight delays and cancellations from the Carolinas to Maine. There are already travel waivers out for dozens of airports, and disruption is predicted to start tomorrow morning. Friday late-afternoon and evening travel might prove the most challenging: Friday evening is one of the busiest air-travel periods of the week. Blessedly, the bulk of the storm is predicted to hit Saturday, which is a relatively light travel day; getting seats on alternate flights should be easier than usual. If you’re scheduled to fly, follow the weather forecast and check your airline’s website for ticket-change-fee waivers. Here’s what else you can do:
- Download the right apps for use at the airport.
If your flight is delayed, GateGuru tells you what’s nearby in the way of services, restaurants, and shops. If you want to escape the crowds, LoungeBuddy points you to the nearest airport lounge clubs you can access for a fee. And if your flight is cancelled and you’re stranded overnight, the TripAdvisor app can point you to your best hotel options.
- Wait out delays in an airport club lounge.
More and more lounges not affiliated with any airline are popping up where you can pay an hourly or daily fee to relax in comfy armchairs—with Wi-Fi, televisions, and snacks—and work at a desk, shower, or even nap. A chain of lounges called The Club now has locations at Atlanta Hartsfield, Dallas-Forth Worth, Las Vegas McCarran, Phoenix Sky Harbor, and San José airports. There are Airspace lounges at New York’s J.F.K., Cleveland, Baltimore-Washington International, and San Diego airports. Access usually costs between $25 and $50. There are also Centurion Lounges available to AmEx cardmembers at Dallas-Fort Worth, Las Vegas, New York’s LaGuardia, and San Francisco, for $50 per day. “If you have a choice among lounges and you need customer-service help,” points out Joe Brancatelli, publisher of JoeSentMe, “favor a lounge that’s operated by the airline you’re flying, since the staffers inside the club may be less busy than those at the gate and are often experts at rebooking.”
- Be the first to find out if your flight is cancelled.
If your airline is waiving ticket-change fees, you can take immediate action. The sooner you know, the better the alternate flight you can get rebooked on. Sign up for flight status alerts on your airline’s Web site and also on FlightStats.com (sometimes a more reliable source). Monitor the airline’s twitter feed too, since that may provide quicker updates.
- Get in line, pull out your computer, and call the airline—all at once.
“While a traveler’s instinct might be to get in line if there’s a problem, that should only be a third of the strategy,” says Brett Snyder, president and chief airline dork at Cranky Concierge. “At the same time, pull out your phone and your tablet/laptop, go to the airline’s website, and pull up your itinerary. If you’re going to miss a connection or your flight is canceled, you may already have been rebooked and you can find out by logging on. If not, some airlines will present alternate options you can pick from without talking to a soul. While this is going on, pick up the phone and call the airline. If you need to be rebooked, you’re competing with everyone else on your flight. The sooner you can get help, the better the chances are that you’ll like your options.”
- Look for a hub to connect in that’s storm-free.
FlightStats.com tells you at a glance which airports and airlines are suffering weather-related delays and, just as important, which are not. Choose “Stats” from the navigation menu and then, from the drop-down menu, choose “Global Cancellations and Delays.” Note which large hub airports are having no weather issues and, if no seats are available on alternate flights on your route, rebook to connect through one of those hubs. If you’re a family with kids, consider splitting up so that each parent flies with one child.
- Find out for yourself which alternate flights have empty seats.
Rather than calling the airline’s jammed phone lines and getting stuck on hold for hours, waiting in an endless line at the customer-service desk at the airport, or depending on a harried airline agent to come to the rescue with a suitable alternate flight, find the seats you need yourself. ExpertFlyer.com provides such flight and seat availability intel for a subscription fee of $4.99 per month. Armed with the info you need, you can then phone the airline and ask for those specific flights.
- Call one of the airline’s international customer-service lines to avoid long waits on hold.
Rather than getting stuck on hold for hours, phone one of the airline’s English-speaking customer-service desks in another country. (Australia, England, Germany, and Singapore are often good options). Here, for example, are American Airlines’ worldwide reservations phone numbers. Use Skype so the phone call is cheap.
- Use your credit card’s concierge service.
“If you have a credit card with concierge service,” advises Christine Sarkins, senior editor at Smarter Travel, “make sure to have the number handy, since they will sometimes help you rebook connecting flights.”
- Take to Twitter.
“Try posting to your airline’s Twitter, Facebook, or another social media page,” says Ed Hewitt, contributing editor for Independent Traveler. Not all airlines monitor those pages in real time, but many do—and they might be able to resolve your problem quickly.”
- Get your money back.
“If your flight is severely delayed or cancelled and the airline offers to rebook you on a later flight, but you realize you’re going to miss the event or purpose that you’re traveling for, know that you can get a full refund even on a non-refundable ticket,” says George Hobica, founder of AirfareWatchdog. “Airlines typically push you into rebooking, but you don’t need to rebook if you don’t want to. Just ask for your money back.”
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