Flying This Weekend? Here’s What You Need To Know

Filed Under: Advice, Travel

As the projected severity of the winter storm in the Northeast increases, most domestic airlines in the US have either canceled flights, or issued waivers for travel over the next few days.

A bit of snow (much less a blizzard) can cause systemwide disruptions, so if you’re scheduled to travel this weekend you’ll want to take precautions.

A 2014 storm shut down JFK

Weather waivers

As of this moment, most of the US airlines (and Air Canada) have issued some kind of notice for this weekend. These range from announcements that flights might be delayed, to full-on cancelations, depending on the airline.

In most cases, the waivers allow you to rebook your travel to a future date, change your routing, and potentially cancel altogether. You’ll want to contact your airline directly, and the extent of the waiver can change at any time.

To help with that, here are key the travel advisory pages:

In general, the airlines don’t want passengers sleeping in airports either, so they’ll try to work with you to rebook your flights. If you have to travel this weekend, be prepared for it to get a bit messy.

Skip the phone queue

Given the thousands of people needing to rebook flights right now, the odds are good you’ll be waiting endlessly on hold to change your tickets. So there are a few ways to avoid that.

Try the club lounge

If 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.

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, where I understand the weather is nice today, or even just Canadian numbers can get you through faster.

¿Hablas Español?

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
  • Southwest Spanish line: 1-800-VAMONOS
  • United Airlines Spanish line: 1-800-426-5561

Be your own advocate

This is maybe more a life philosophy than one specific to weather delays, 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.

Bottom line

In a storm, or any other type of travel disruption, you always have options. If you wait to be told what your travel choices are, the odds are good that you’ll miss out on the better alternatives.

Be patient with people, but be proactive.

Is anyone traveling this weekend? What is your plan for the weather?

  1. For Air Canada pressing the french options will usually get you to someone who speaks English just fine – it’s our equivalent of “el primo numero dos”

  2. All great tips and ones I second. I’m scheduled to fly PTY-IAD on Saturday and think it’s unlikely to happen, though I’ll give it a shot since when I called to rebook the only option was on Monday. Worst case scenario is extra time in Panama which isn’t terrible although at this point I’d just like to be home. Lucky I have the flexibility to see what happens.

  3. @K8 lol. you just said “the second cousin” The verb is oprimar, which means to press. i.e “oprima numero dos”

  4. Greetings from the nation’s capital!! Southwest has proactively cancelled most flights out of Washington DC after 2PM Friday, even though the storm isn’t expected until later in the day. They were very good about EMAILing impacted passengers quickly, and allowing waiver changes to be made online. (It appears that United doesn’t support waiver changes online, forcing customers to use one of the other methods you have suggested.)

  5. I am going to gamble. Booked an run for Saturday on AS, PDX-BOS-PDX. I guess we’ll see what happens!

  6. Do airlines typically waive move-up standby fees for non-elites during these times? All the earlier flights are booked up. complicating matters it is AA booked with avios.

  7. @ Coldagglutannin — They do, absolutely. Your situation might be a bit trickier, but BA does have a travel waiver in place as well:

    I would start by calling AA and see if they can take control of the ticket. If not, you’ll need to have BA talk to their liaison, which is a huge PITA, but technically possible. Once you get close to flight time it’s definitely the operating carrier’s responsibility, but it gets fuzzy beforehand. Good luck!!

  8. @tiffany thanks! on hold now. second leg has already been cancelled…but its on a separate reso from the first leg…

  9. Some airlines have said they will offer refunds as well; I believe Delta may be one of them, surprisingly…

    Another well-written and enjoyable post, keep up the great work!

  10. Update: AA wouldn’t touch it. BA Executive club was very helpful and their hold line is much shorter than AA (30 min vs. 1 hour)

  11. Woot, just landed and home in DC. Canceled meetings tomorrow in Chicago and got an opening on the last flight out of ORD and grabbed it. My strategy to avoid getting stuck for days there and messing up weeks of schedules.

  12. I’m flying on Sunday to Europe out of JFK. Any advice on how to know before anyone else that my flight is cancelled so I can jump on Monday rebooking options first?

  13. @ Tom — The simplest option is to Google your flight number, but you can also use FlightAware to track the inbound aircraft, etc. Paying attention will put you ahead of the game, really.

  14. @Tiffany–I know a while back you had done a post on how to track incoming flights that mostly dealt with international segments and had mentioned that you might consider doing a post on how to do that for domestic flights. Did you publish one (I might have missed it)?

    Also an accidental stroke of luck for me that might help other folks. I called AA to ticket an itinerary on hold and called the web support number by mistake and asked them to transfer me to AAdvantage. I was connected almost immediately but while chatting with the agent they said they had about 5000 calls on hold and another 4000 calls on virtual hold (call back). Since no one wants to be at the back end of that list, having the methods above is a great option, thanks for putting them together!

  15. This is great advice. On Jan 24 during height of storm, I saw 5 people waiting for the booking agents inside the United Lounge v hundreds waiting in the general terminal at Narita. It’s worth paying $50 for a day pass to the airline lounges if you don’t belong.

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