Between California’s tragic wildfires and the Northeast’s impending snowstorm, it’s shaping up to be a week of extremes – and a rough one for travelers.
In the Northeast, people are bracing for the first snowstorm of the season, with Winter Storm Avery already starting to wreak havoc from the Ohio Valley to the Appalachians Mountains.
The storm is likely to bring a mix of snow and ice, which should make for a rough commute, and could be extra-problematic in areas where the trees haven’t lost all of their leaves yet.
Meanwhile, California’s tragic wildfires continue to rage on. According to CBS News, The Woolsey Fire has torn across close to 100,000 acres near Los Angeles, while Butte County’s Camp Fire has taken over 10,000 buildings and 56 lives across 138,000 acres.
While the fires are starting to be contained, air quality has been impacted across much of the state. Even four hours and one mountain range away, I was able to see the smoke from the Camp Fire in Santa Cruz earlier this week. And much of California continues to see this weather warning:
So while this isn’t a “typical” storm warning in the traditional sense, visibility has been severely impacted.
While air travel across the west coast seems to be (mostly) up and running, albeit with some delays, the Northeast is starting to see the predictable slew of delayed and canceled flights. Most airlines have issued some sort of travel waiver, allowing passengers to change or rebook their flight at no additional cost.
Waivers for the fires were posted earlier this week and are still very much up and running, and most of the major airlines have issued waivers for Winter Storm Avery as well.
Regardless of the current status, here is where you can find the latest travel advisories for the following airlines, and where they stand at the time of publishing:
- Air Canada (waiver for select cities affected by Avery or other snow/wind conditions)
- Alaska (comprehensive waiver for California wildfires, no waiver for Avery yet)
- Allegiant (no waiver yet)
- American (waivers for California wildfires and Avery)
- Delta (waivers for California wildfires and Avery)
- Frontier (no waivers yet)
- JetBlue (waivers for California wildfires and Avery)
- Southwest (waivers for California wildfires and Avery)
- Spirit (waiver for Avery)
- United (waivers for California wildfires and Avery)
- WestJet (waiver for Avery)
As always, these are subject to change based on the severity or scope of the storms. For example, as of last night American Airlines had not yet issued a travel waiver for Winter Storm Avery, but they added a pretty comprehensive one this morning. So if you don’t see your airline or airport of choice in here, keep checking back as the forecast changes.
Tips for rebooking
Even with top-tier status, phone queues can sometimes take hours, and multiple weather advisories just compound the issue. If ever there was a time to be creative, it’s when hundreds of thousands of people are reaching out to the airline call centers at the same time.
Below is a list of tips that Tiffany put together that could help you avoid hours in the phone queue (or worse, a night at the airport!)
Try the club lounge
Don’t leave this until the day of travel, but if the situation changes and you’re already at the airport, start with the lounge agents. They tend to have fewer passengers to deal with than the gate agents, and thus may have more time (and more patience), when it comes to rebooking your flight. The exception is Alaska, as due to contractual reasons their lounge agents literally can’t help with flight reservations.
Reach out on social media
I’ve had good luck changing flights by sending direct messages to American via Twitter. Several other airlines have a Twitter presence as well, and while they might not be able to fix your reservation, it’s worth trying:
Avoid the domestic call centers
If you’re willing to spend a few dollars on Skype or Google Voice credit, calling the international call center for an airline can often save you an hour or more of hold time.
Almost all of these call centers have an English-speaking option, but you can also call Australia, or even just Canadian numbers can get you through faster.
- Air Canada international reservations
- American international reservations
- Delta international reservations
- United international reservations
If you have a rudimentary understanding of Spanish (like, just enough to get through the computer system), you can try the Spanish-speaking numbers. Again, fewer people calling means shorter hold times, and the agents typically speak English as well.
- American Airlines Spanish line: 1-800-633-3711
- United Airlines Spanish line: 1-800-426-5561
Be your own advocate
This is maybe more a life philosophy than one specific to travel disruptions, but it holds true — no one cares about you (or your travel) as much as you do.
So be nice, but ask questions, present alternatives, be prepared to book your own hotel rather than waiting in line with a hundred other people for a voucher, and so forth.
If you stand around and wait, you will almost certainly have a worse time than those who are actively finding solutions to the situation.
Check your credit card coverage
If you purchased your tickets with a credit card, you may have some additional protection and benefits when your flight is delayed. Check with your credit card company, or see our list of popular travel cards with good delay coverage.
These cards will often cover your hotel, or potentially even the cost of a new flight, and so forth, so it’s good to know both the benefits and the requirements to file a claim.
Any time that there are weather delays, the best thing that you can do is to be as proactive as possible. Track your flight as soon as you can, change it online if you can, and pay attention to the small nuances, like connecting cities or inbound flights.
If you’re traveling up and down the east coast, alternate modes of transportation, like Amtrak or (four wheel drive) rental cars may also present more viable options than air travel. Just be sure to keep an eye on the train schedules, and be really careful if you do decide to drive.
All that is to say that the more flexible you are, and the more you can keep your cool, the more likely you are to get to where you need to go – and hopefully avoid a dreaded night at the airport.
Is anyone impacted by these weather delays? What’s your plan this week?
P.S. If you’re looking for a way to help those who are impacted by the wildfires in California, consider looking at the California Community Foundation Wildfire Relief Fund, or the American Red Cross, both of which are providing on-the-ground help for the victims of the fires.