PAD YOUR SCHEDULE. Balance the possibilities of delays or cancellations against the importance of your arriving on time. If you have a "can't miss" meeting, celebration, or secondary departure, pad your schedule to allow for a major air travel snarl. That may even mean traveling a full day early. Recovering from any delay or cancellation involves a minimum of several extra hours and an extra day is not out of the question.
- Bio | E-mail | Recent columns
- How to pick the best airline: What you need to know
- 10 tips for preventing stolen luggage
- These items won't fly
- Luggage tips
- Packing tips
- Simple precautions to help travelers stay healthy
See more photos »
- Air Transportation Delays
- Air Transportation Industry
- Air Transportation
See more topics »
AVOID TROUBLE HUBS. If you can't avoid hubbing entirely, you can at least minimize hubbing risks by routing yourself through a hub not likely to encounter severe winter weather. During the first quarter of the year, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Houston, and Phoenix generally report lowest percentages of late arrivals. Despite lots of snow, Denver and Salt Lake City also do pretty well -- at least they know how to cope with heavy snows. Even though it's in the South, Atlanta doesn't do quite as well as other sunbelt hubs. The dishonor roll of hubs to avoid is obvious: Chicago/O'Hare, the New York airports, and San Francisco. For travel to Europe, Washington/Dulles is a better winter gateway bet than airports to the north, and Los Angeles beats San Francisco for travel to Asia.
SCHEDULE FLIGHTS TO MINIMIZE RISKS. Delays and cancellations have a domino effect throughout the day. Avoid tight hub connections. On most routes, book yourself on flights as early as possible -- the later in the day, the worse the situation gets. In a few places, however, local weather patterns may dictate a different strategy: Our airport here in Medford is prone to early-morning fog, for example, so savvy winter travelers try to book themselves on mid-morning or midday departures. San Francisco travelers face the same choice.
CHECK THE FORECASTS. You can sometimes spot delays before your airline officially lets you know about them. That means keeping tabs on weather forecasts several days in advance for any airport you plan to use -- departure, hub, or destination. Especially check inbound arrivals at any originating airport where you plan an early-morning departure: If the plane can't get in the night before, it won't be there for your morning departure.
KEEP IN TOUCH WITH YOUR AIRLINE. These days, airlines may "proactively" cancel flights to avoid upcoming problems. And they often waive change penalties several days before an anticipated storm.
HAVE A PLAN B. Figure that something might go wrong, and be ready with your own suggested alternative schedule rather than wait to see what your airline offers. The earlier you start to change, the more likely you are to avoid extended delays. In any major weather event, you airline is likely to waive re-ticketing fees, so be ready.
USE A TRAVEL AGENT. During bad weather, your departure or hub airport will likely be a madhouse with thousands of travelers trying to find alternate flights. Instead of standing in line at a customer service desk, have an agent working on your deal as soon as a problem arises.
No matter what, you can't avoid all problems. But at least you can minimize the risks. Anticipate.
Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at eperkins(at)mind.net. Perkins' new book for small business and independent professionals, "Business Travel When It's Your Money," is now available through www.mybusinesstravel.com or www.amazon.com