The trouble with winter travel.

By Wendy Clinch •  Updated: 01/07/14 •  5 min read

The trouble is simple. It’s winter. And all the things we love about it make it an awful time to travel.

I’m writing this after a perfectly hellacious day. You may recall that last week I reported that I’d be spending this week in Park City with Columbia Sportwear as part of their #Omniten Team.

Sigh. If only that were so.

You know the winter storm that grounded a large part of the country? Got me, too. Here’s the deal: Yesterday I was supposed to fly from Manchester, NH, to Baltimore, MD, to Salt Lake City.

Yep, you heard right:  supposed to. Sadly, my flight out of Manchester was cancelled, with nothing available til Thursday— not even from nearby Boston.  I tried other airports and yes! There was a flight today out of Albany, NY! So rather than drive 2 hours plus home on very icy roads, I hopped in the car for what I thought would be an easy 3-hour trip. Instead, I had a white-knuckle drive across Massachusetts in a miserable combination of rain, fog, sleet, and blinding snow for 5 hours, solid. And when I finally got to Albany I was met with more disappointment: my flight was cancelled again. And no, I couldn’t get another flight out. To anywhere. The only alternative was a three-legged journey this morning that would’ve taken me all over the country, increasing my chance of being stranded somewhere for God knows how long.

The kind people at Columbia’s travel agency, who spent a lot of time working with me, told me that more than 3,000 flights were canceled yesterday. And it was far from over, with more cancellations to come. Planes weren’t where they were supposed to be, and there were just too many people in the system. Dare I risk it? No. I gave up.

I’m not the first person who’s had this happen, and I’m surely not the last. Winter weather makes flying difficult. And though it stinks, let’s just say that there are a lot worse things that can happen. Right now I’m safe and warm.  I could’ve ended up sleeping on the floor of some airport somewhere, my luggage scattered across the country in some sort of airport netherworld. Instead, I took a nice hotel room, had a good dinner, and changed my plans. It’s out of my hands.

So what’s a skier to do, if you run into a similar circumstance? What if your flight is cancelled?

The key is flexibility. Expect the unexpected. Roll with the punches. Breathe in, breathe out. Don’t lose  your top at the airline employees. It’s not their fault, and it really doesn’t help. I saw one man yelling at some poor baggage handler about his cancelled flight. C’mon now, really?

Here are some things to do before you go:

Pre-pack. Make sure you have a carryon with  some essentials: toothpaste, clean underwear, medication, a phone charger, etc. That way, if some leg of your journey is cancelled, you’ll have a few important items with you.

And this may seem evident, but check your flight before you leave to make sure it’s still scheduled. This could save you a trip to the airport.

What if you’re at the airport and your flight is canceled?

If you’re with a crowd at the customer service desk, call the airline on your cell. You might get through faster.

Know your rights: For domestic flights, US airlines are not obligated to compensate you for cancellations. If weather’s the problem, they must get on on the next available flight, but they’re not obligated to put you on another airline. If it’s non-weather related, they must put you on the next available flight.

Go online. If you used an online travel agency to book your reservation, try to reach them. And don’t forget about your  hotel or car reservations, either. Cancelled flights have a ripple effect, and your other travel providers may need to be notified, too. You can rebook, or they may give you a partial refund.

Find out what their compensation package is. You may be entitled to something: a hotel room, a refund. If you have a smart phone, an app called Hotel Tonight is a great way to find last minute hotel room.

More importantly, stay calm. You’ll think more clearly, and it’s a lot better for your general well being. Remember, there are things a lot worse that could happen. I know it’s hard to keep this in mind. Believe me, I’m missing a helluva great time. But I’m trying to be an adult about this. I know I made the right decision.

I’m going to head home. I’m grateful that I didn’t end up sleeping on the floor of the Chicago airport. I have all my luggage, skis included. And now I get to go home to my sweetie and my kitty cat. So it’s okay. There’ll be other trips. And yes, I’ll try again.

Happy Trails. And best of luck.

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