Don’t get trapped by bad Thanksgiving weather

Posted at 7:02 AM, Nov 26, 2013
and last updated 2013-11-26 09:02:10-05

By Katia Hetter

(CNN) — The stormy weather traveling across the country and heading up the Northeastern corridor isn’t making it easy for the nearly 44 million people traveling this Thanksgiving. Nearly 39 million people will be hitting the road this busy holiday travel weekend, while more than 3 million people will be flying, according to AAA projections.

Or maybe they won’t be?

Snow has slowed travel in states not used to dealing with it. And the storm could hit the Eastern Seaboard on Wednesday, the busiest travel day of the year, when AAA expects 37% percent of travelers to travel. AAA estimates that it will rescue more than 320,000 motorists during the Thanksgiving weekend because of car trouble, but that number could rise depending on the storm’s effects.

Although this wintry mix is expected to turn to rain by Wednesday, CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen predicts delays of at least two to four hours at major airports in Washington, New York, Philadelphia, Boston and all along the Northeastern corridor. Snow is expected at the Pittsburgh and Buffalo airports, he said, and snow in western Pennsylvania and western and upstate New York could make driving treacherous.

“It’s a pretty big, impactful winter storm that is going to hit on the worst day it could possibly hit,” Hennen said. The combination of rain and wind, along with the configuration of the airports, means “the number of airplanes (that airports) can accept per hour will drop drastically.”

Don’t wait to get into the airport or the last rest stop before developing your holiday backup plan. Do it now, while you’re still in the safety of your own home. Pack some patience and take our advice to have a sane, and maybe even serene, holiday trip.

Don’t drive into a storm. Monitor your local and regional forecasts. If the weather report in your departure or arrival city advises staying put for safety reasons, consider not hitting the road for Thanksgiving. If there’s a possibility that bad weather could hit while you’re on the road, make sure to have cold weather clothing and shoes, extra water and snacks, charged up devices, diapers for the little ones, a full tank of gas and flares in case you get stopped by weather.

Check your flight, no matter where you’re going. Think you don’t have to worry about bad weather because you’re flying from sunny California to sunny Florida? Not so fast. That airplane you’re picking up in San Diego may have been coming from Minneapolis or Chicago. If your aircraft is coming from a city hit by foul weather, it can hold up your warm weather travel. Check your aircraft’s journey on your airline website, or Aviation Queen travel blogger Benet J. Wilson recommends the Flightview app to track your aircraft’s path. And don’t rub it in to the snow-bound folks that you’re heading to the beach.

Follow your airline and airport on social media. Follow your airlines and airports via Twitter and Facebook. Many airlines and airports post the speediest updates to their Twitter feeds, so start following them now, even if you don’t use Twitter otherwise. Sign up for your airline alerts to get flight updates e-mailed to your smartphone.

Rebook your flight for free. Delta Air Lines has already issued a waiver for some Thanksgiving weekend flights. Many airlines have teams devoted to tracking the weather and rearranging flight schedules to avoid bad winter weather. If the weather proves too dangerous for flight, airlines often offer customers the opportunity to rebook their flights to leave earlier or later free of charge, before you leave for the airport. Sometimes, the airlines will even waive fees to rebook customers who see the writing on the wall and call before the bad weather hits. No guarantees, but it’s worth a try, said Airfarewatchdog President George Hobica.

Charge your devices. Expect crowds surrounding the electrical outlets at your departure airport to increase if your flight is delayed. And don’t expect rest stops to share their outlets with you. Have a car charger and stash a power pack or a few battery chargers for your portable electronic devices (useful for driving or flying).

Don’t test the new FAA electronics rules. Your aircraft will probably be packed, and flight attendants will be busy helping infrequent travelers get settled into their seats. Yes, you know have the right to use your iPads and other portable electronics devices in airplane mode below 10,000 feet on some flights. But not every airline has gotten FAA approval, and you don’t want to argue with your flight crew during this week of all weeks. (Remember, you might not be working this holiday week, but they are. Be nice.)

Stock up on snacks. Stock up on non-perishable snacks and drinks for the car (if you’re flying, avoid the drinks, but carry an empty water bottle to refill after you clear airport security). Granola bars, beef jerky, dried nuts and fruit and other protein-rich snacks can keep you and the children going without spending a fortune at rest stops or the airport. (Drivers can pack lunch in a cooler to reduce costs further.)

Are you already stuck at the airport? If you’re stranded, don’t only go to the ticket counter. Use the NextFlight app and type in your city pair to get the next flights for the major airlines, Wilson said. Then, call the airline on your cell phone and give them your preferred options. You might get booked on another flight before you reach the front of the line. (Also consider nearby cities where you can rent a car and drive to your final destination.)

Stay home next year. Travel experts Wilson and Johnny “Jet” DiScala are staying home for Thanksgiving this year, and every year they can. “I try to not travel on Thanksgiving,” said DiScala, who flies more than 100 times per year but stays home in Los Angeles on Turkey Day. “There are so many rookies out, a lot of first-timers at the airports. The planes are completely packed, and it’s expensive.”

Wilson prefers not to risk it. “With Mother Nature, you never know what’s going to happen,” she said. “The airlines can only do so much.”

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