I was flying back from Venice with my Italy Pilgrimage group, and bad weather in the JFK area created a domino effect of delays and cancellations. My flight to Charlotte was cancelled and rescheduled for the next day, so I had to spend the night nearby, and get up bright and early the next day – that’s my selfie at 5:45am with my diet Coke in the Delta SkyClub. But I think my folks flying home to Atlanta had it worse – they were delayed no less than 10 times and 6+ hours, ultimately departing at 1:10am rather than the scheduled time of 6:25pm. They landed at 3:50am. UGH! So I thought I would share some insight about weather related flight delays and how to prepare for them, as this can affect any trip you may take.
Weather Delays and Airline Obligations
As maddening as delays and cancellations are, when they are weather-related, you are at the mercy of the airlines and they do not have to compensate you. You just have to deal with it. So let’s talk about how to handle the situation and prepare for the inevitable time you will be affected by a weather issue.
First off, airlines have no liability for delays or cancellations due to ‘force majeure’ or weather and acts of God. They will work to reschedule you to the next available flight, whenever that may be, or they may reroute you. No matter how long you may have to wait for your rescheduled flight (hours, days), they don’t have to provide meal or hotel vouchers. All the extra costs are your responsibility.
Anticipating these situations and making minor changes to your packing routine can prepare you to more easily manage these circumstances calmly.
Pack the right items in your Carry-On
You never know when a delay may impact your travel, so be careful about what you pack in your checked luggage and what you put in your carry-on bag. If you are delayed for 6-10 hours, what might you need access to during that time? Medications for sure, eyeglasses, but also any critical business papers, travel vouchers with contact info, charging cords, electrical adapters for the foreign airports so you can charge your devices. I was delayed 8+ hours during a connection in the Paris airport, and was very glad I had a European adapter in my bag so I could continue to use my laptop.
Sometimes these delays can take place once you are on the plane. You’ve certainly heard stories of folks being stuck on the tarmac for 4+ hours, with no food or drink provided to the passengers as they waited. So another tip is to include some snacks in your carry-on bag. Whether you are stuck waiting in the terminal after hours, or on a plane, having food handy in your bag can make a huge difference in dealing with a difficult situation. You might also want to buy a bottled soft drink from an airport vendor to put in your bag before boarding a flight if the weather seems iffy – in case you are delayed on the tarmac, or if your flight takes off but there is no beverage service because of turbulence.
Contact Local Hotels Personally
If you find you typically fly through a connecting airport often, like JFK, it can be helpful to keep a list of nearby airport hotels with contact numbers, so you can find a hotel room more easily when space is filling up quickly because of widespread delays. If you are delayed by a huge storm where many flights are cancelled, and nearby hotels are already full, another tip is to not believe the hotel website. Call and talk with a real person. When I was in JFK last week, all the desirable close-in airport hotels showed no availability on their websites. I called the one I stayed in February (see, these issues happen a lot!), and they had a room available. They had three. So, this is a case where you don’t want to depend on technology but rather make personal contact.
Consider Travel Insurance
While airlines will not provide compensation for weather related delays or cancellations, travel insurance can help with the expenses that arise when dealing with flight issues. The key is to understand the terms of your travel insurance, in this case the section called Travel Delay; second, keep every single receipt for any expenses incurred – taxi, hotel, extra meal costs.
The US Department of Transportation says on their website: “Airlines don’t guarantee their schedules, and you should realize this when planning your trip. There are many things that can-and often do-make it impossible for flights to arrive on time. Some of these problems, like bad weather, air traffic delays, and mechanical issues, are hard to predict and often beyond the airlines’ control.”
Allow Extra Time
For important events, like family weddings or critical business meetings, the most significant tip is to anticipate a delay and build in extra time when you are scheduling your flights. You don’t want to miss a crucial appointment because you trusted the airline schedule – whether it’s a delay for weather, or even a mechanical delay where they compensate you with a hotel night, assume something bad can happen to mess up your plans, and plan some contingency to ensure a successful trip.