What Can You Do When Traveling During Or Right After A Hurricane?

Hurricane Florence is heading for the east coast of the United States and we hope all of those in the path of the hurricane do everything to stay safe. As residents of Florida, we know what it’s like to see one of these storms heading right for you. Just know that you all are on our minds and we hope for the best possible outcome.

We also realize there are a bunch of other people out there who aren’t affected by the hurricane. They have travel plans set for a once in a lifetime trip. Maybe it’s a trip to Walt Disney World with the kids for the first time or a honeymoon in Hawaii or a bucket list trip to see the temples of Southeast Asia. Whatever it is you have planned, there’s a good chance that if you have air travel planned in the U.S. during the next week or so, Florence is going to wreak havoc on those plans and that’s the main thing on your mind right now. I understand, it’s the difference between experiencing a tragedy and being affected by it. I totally get it.

There’s not much I can do for those in the path of the storm besides telling you to evacuate if advised, hunker down and be safe if you’re allowed to stay, and make sure you have plenty of fresh water, batteries and non-perishable food (and alcohol). For those who have travel plans affected by the storm, here are some tips of what you can do to make sure you’re able to go on that trip (and, quite frankly, if you even should).

If Your Travel Plans Are In The Path Of The Storm

Please, if your plans are to go somewhere in the path, or possible path, of the storm just don’t go.

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Delta Airlines, United Airlines and American Airlines are all offering to rebook passengers on alternate flights with no change fees, and are also waiving excess baggage fees and in-cabin pet fees for those leaving the area. A full list of the airline waivers issued can be found on the USA Today website or just Google “Florence travel waivers.”

If you have hotel reservations, car rental or other plans, even non-refundable ones, they will likely become refundable if the location is in the storm path. Hotels will be 100% full, between people fleeing from the storm, as well as those stranded who weren’t able to get transportation back home. The workers at all of these locations need to keep their families safe and secure their own property before possibly trying to evacuate themselves. Your vacation is not their main priority at this moment. Be respectful and considerate to those in a time of crisis. In other words, just be a good human being; EVERYONE will be under pressure, not just you.

Your Travel May Be Affected Even If Not Directly In The Path Of The Storm

Air travel is a huge network of tightly interconnected moving parts. Airplanes, pilots, flight attendants and support staff all need to come together to make flying from A to B possible on a daily basis. One thing that throws off that balance has a ripple effect over the entire airline system. Imagine what a hurricane does to that system.

Delta Airlines has a huge presence in Atlanta. American Airlines has hubs in Charlotte and Miami. Hurricane Florence is supposed to hang over North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia for days. Airlines will pull the airplanes from those airports before the storm leading to flight delays and cancellations. Those cancellations will cause pilots and crews to be out of position to get to connecting flights. Those flights will be delayed or cancelled. Airport staff will be without power at their homes and maybe without water or the ability to get gas for their cars. It’s understandable that they might not be able to get to work for a few days while they remove trees from their driveways and roof shingles from their backyard.

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When our house looked like this after Hurricane Charley hit, I didn’t make it to work the next day. Hopefully you’ll understand why those living in the path of the storm won’t be back to work as soon as the blue sky comes out after the storm.

Airlines plan for these problems but figure that any flight in the next week could be affected. You need to be vigilant and be your own advocate.

What Can You Do?

Be Proactive

You know there’s a major storm that will affect travel. If you’re scheduled to be flying through (or near) an area that will be affected, try contacting the airline to see if they can arrange for an alternate route. Flying out of your way is much better than getting stranded at the airport by a cancelled flight. Most airlines will rebook you if there’s space available, as they don’t want you stranded any more than you want to be stranded. This is true even if you think your flight is nowhere near the storm track.

Stay Informed

Once you get to the airport, your job isn’t finished. Changes, cancellations and delays can and will still happen. Here’s how to deal with them:

  1. Sign up for text alerts from the airline – When making your reservation, you’re asked for your phone number. While I’m usually hesitant to give out my cell phone number, this is one instance where I’ll provide it to the airline. Flight delays, gate changes and other information is pushed out by texts much faster than they are posted at the airport.
  2. Get the smartphone app for your airline (and update it regularly) – If you have your frequent flyer information updated on your phone and activate push notifications, the airline will send instant notices about flight changes.
  3. Follow your flight on your own. While getting alerts from the airline are nice, getting your own information is usually more efficient. I use the app FlightAware when tracking flights – it’s one of the 7 apps you really should have when traveling.  Not only can you check the up to the minute status of your flight, but you can also track your incoming flight status. If your flight is still showing on time but the plane you’re supposed to leave on is running an hour late, it’s just a matter of time before your flight is delayed. Knowing this doesn’t make things any better but you can more efficiently manage your time at the airport.
  4. For a while, I paid the service TripIt for their Pro level service. They essentially provide the same information as FlightAware but you don’t have to do any of the work, A year subscription usually costs $49 but there are 20% offers out there like the one available with this link. I don’t pay for the service as I don’t travel enough for it to make sense for me but if you do, it’s a small price to pay for a great service. Again, it’s one of those 7 apps you need to have for traveling.

Be Patient

If your travel plans get disrupted, stay calm. There’s nothing you can do to change what’s happened. If you need to travel, then figuring out a way to save your trip needs to be your priority.

If the delay happens when you’re at the airport, you need to be flexible. Having some sort of lounge access from a credit card (like the AMEX Platinum Card) can make these delays a little more tolerable because you’ll have a comfortable seat, a power plug, some form of food and drink and WiFi access. Hopefully the delay won’t be too long and you’ll be on the way to your destination. Getting there late is better than not getting there at all. Priorities, people.

What If You Have A Connecting Flight?

Non-stop flights are your friend when there’s major weather disturbances. Less moving parts means you’re more likely to reach your destination. If you’re delayed and going to miss your connection, I’ve already written about what to do if you think you’ll miss a connecting flight due to a flight delay. While we made our connecting flight in the article, we might not have. What if we ended up being stuck in the city overnight? How could we get re-booked?

Planning For And Dealing With The Worst Case Scenario

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I guess the worst thing than can happen is that your flight eventually gets cancelled or you miss your connecting flight and end up stuck in some city you didn’t want to be in overnight. You still have to find a way to your destination.

  1. If the airline you’re flying has a lounge at the airport and you have access to that lounge (click here to start searching), here’s the time to put those lounge agents to work for you. The line at the lounge will be shorter than the customer service line in the terminal. It might be worth it just to pay for a day pass even if you don’t have lounge access just to get a “go the the front of the line” ticket and possibly get a seat on a flight that day.
  2. If there’s no lounge or you don’t want to pay for access, then you need to get in the very long line at the airport. You may eventually need to speak with the airport agents to get re-booked. This isn’t Plan A but it’s better off to get in the line now while you work on other options.
  3. Open the airline app on your phone and see if you can re-book flights there. Airlines’ computer booking systems are getting smarter all the time and will often provide you with an offer to re-book on the next “available” flight. Now, what the computer thinks is the best option might not be the best for you but why not check out what it has to offer?
  4. Try to tweet the airline. You may be able to get re-booked on a different flight by tweeting. Even if you haven’t missed a connecting flight yet, the agents on Twitter may be able to “protect” you on a later flight. That means they’ll keep you on the flight you booked but in case you miss the flight, you’ll already have a reserved place on the next flight. I did this for a friend when he was in the middle of a horrible travel day (Note: He didn’t get on the flight home and ended up stuck in Detroit overnight but we did everything we could to try to get him home.).Screen Shot 2018-05-28 at 8.31.46 PM
  5. Call the airline. You can do this while on line. JohnnyJet has a list of all the airline phone numbers on his website. You can put them into your phone now (like you should) or just end up searching for this link when you’re sitting delayed at the airport. I won’t judge.
  6. Check if other airlines might be able to get you to your location. Some airlines might be willing to book you onto another airline’s flight. Your chance of this working will depend on your status with the airline. If you’re an United 1K flyer, you might get re-booked but if you booked a basic economy ticket on American, I wouldn’t get my hopes up for this working. It can’t hurt to ask, though.

If you’ve gotten this far down the list, it’s time to face the reality that you might be in for a long night. While the people in front of you might be hoping for the airline to provide a meal voucher or a hotel room for the night, airlines aren’t held accountable for weather related delays. Don’t believe me? Check out the Department of Transportation webpage. Here’s exactly what you are entitled to:

There are no federal laws requiring airlines to provide passengers with money or other compensation when their flights are delayed.  Each airline has its own policies about what it will do for delayed passengers.  If your flight is experiencing a long delay, ask airline staff if they will pay for meals or a hotel room.  While some airlines offer these amenities to passengers, others do not provide any amenities to stranded passengers.

I’d start checking websites for airport hotels with rooms available for the night. I’ve never had to use it but I’ve heard that HotelTonight is one of the better apps to find last minute hotel rooms at reduced rates. I also hope that you used a credit card with good travel insurance for flight delays, like the Citi Prestige or Chase Sapphire Reserve. At least with those, some or all of the hotel and meal costs will be covered.

The most important thing to remember is that the employees at the airport, on the phone and in the lounge do not control the weather. They can’t make planes land any faster or keep the flight crews from timing out (working over the maximum allowable hours). While you may be upset, tired, anxious and frustrated about not getting to where you were going, none of this is their fault. Their day is not going well either, as they need to re-book hundreds, if not thousands of passengers to their destinations as quickly as possible onto planes that were already mostly booked to begin with. So work with them and if you know what’s available ahead of time and help make their job easier, they might be more willing to work with you to get you to your destination. If not, then you still might end up with one of those food vouchers or a free hotel room at the Comfort Inn.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

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