In the United States, people have for decades moved from the wet/cold areas of the Northeast and Upper Midwest for the warmer climates of the Southern states or drier Western states. Most of these transplants gradually forget about weather until they make a trip home for the holidays, like Thanksgiving or Christmas.
Faced with this in the near future, you start contemplating flying into places like Boston, Massachusetts or Chicago, Illinois in November or December. You know that it will be dreary. That’s the best-case scenario. But it could be…nasty.
And that means delayed flights and possibly (terrifyingly) being stranded at an airport when you should be browsing a pie buffet.
Airline Travel Tips for Winter Weather
Give Yourself an Extra Day
If at all possible, give yourself an extra day of time to fly into a region likely to have bad weather at the time of your trip. You could do the same for the flight home as well.
The extra time will reduce your stress about missing a holiday celebration should you encounter flight delays or cancellations. The extra day could give you enough time to catch a new flight and still arrive in time to enjoy yourself.
In the event that your flight goes well and you arrive on time, you can relax at your destination instead of rushing around and spending most of your days off in airports and planes.
Also keep in mind that holiday travel often involves returning to your hometown. An extra day there could be an opportunity to look up an old friend and reconnect. This is why the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving is such a big bar night. Adults go home and go out to see people they grew up with. It’s also a nice way to limit time kicking around your parents’ house if that drives you a little nuts.
Explore Your Flight Path Options
When shopping for airline tickets, pay attention to the flight paths. Will your flight stop at a hub with notoriously troublesome weather, like Denver, Minneapolis, or Chicago?
If possible, look at alternative airline carriers to see if they have flights routed through hubs with lower chances of ice storms or blizzards.
Book Your Holiday Flights Before the Rush
For example, on a cross-continental route, you might find an airline that goes through Dallas Fort Worth. This southern hub is much more likely to remain operational in the winter. However, bad weather in other locations in the country can trap airplanes, and then delays and cancellations spread chaos through the whole continent.
Cancel Your Flight Last Minute
Modern weather reporting makes it clear when severe weather is a near certainty. If it looks like you’re going to be flying into a mess, then you might prefer to cancel or reschedule your trip. In certain situations, this could be the only reliable way to avoid winter weather airline hell.
It hurts to miss out on your holiday trip, but, if your fate appears to be stranded at an airport in a flyover state, then you could exercise this option.
To cancel your flight last minute, go to your online booking record and find the cancellation process. Most airlines provide a credit for you to use on a future flight. In general, you can expect to pay some fees or penalties. Depending on the terms of your original ticket purchase, you might qualify for a refund if you cancel your flight.
At the Points Guy website, you can find a guide to how to cancel your flight last minute that includes specific cancellation policies for major airlines.
Don’t Fly Cross Country in the Winter
If you’re someone living in a warm climate who makes an annual pilgrimage to your cold, home state for the holidays, maybe you could do it in the summer instead.
Why spend your precious vacation time risking being trapped in an airport far from the comforts of home?
You could travel to see family in the summer. There are summer holidays that families get together for, like Junteenth and Fourth of July. Maybe there is a big family reunion planned for July or August? You could attend that in lieu of visiting at Thanksgiving or Christmas.
Traveling to those cold, wintry states in the summer is usually great. The summer weather will likely be much more moderate than Arizona or Florida.
I lived in California for many years and adopted the summer travel strategy. No more would I have to sit in a cramped plane on the runway for de-icing, which can take hours, before flying off into a near zero-visibility snow storm. Instead, I got to escape the summer heat and have a summer vacation in my home state, which is a summer travel destination.
This is certainly something to think about if you’re at risk of being stranded in winter weather airline hell.
If you plan on flying into your cold home state for the winter holidays, your best bet is to give yourself extra travel time and hope for the best.
Book Your Holiday Flights Before the Rush