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7 Easy Ways to Take the Headache Out of Airport Travel This Winter

Airplane tacking off.

  1. Avoid the worst airports. Frequent flyers know to avoid airports like O’Hare in the winter (where 42 percent of all flights are delayed), but did you know that Newark and Fort Lauderdale also have more than one-third of their flights delayed, too? If you’re flying out of New York, you are less likely to be delayed if you use LaGuardia than JFK. Fort Lauderdale (FLL) is a hotspot for delays since most flights are coming from chilly locales and flying into FLL is typically more affordable than other Florida airports. One surprising finding from travel website Hopper’s 2014 airport delay analysis? Nearly 75 percent of flights departing from Minneapolis-St. Paul and Detroit leave on time, a better record that Dallas-Fort Worth and Tampa.

  2. Never check a bag. Minimize potential headaches by avoiding checked baggage whenever possible. Not only will you save money on checked baggage fees, but flying with only your carry-on luggage makes it much easier to standby for another flight, should a delay impact your original travel itinerary. An added bonus: no checked bag means no risk for lost luggage, which is a potential likelihood should your baggage face multiple re-routings.

  3. Bring back-up supplies. Even if your flight is on schedule when you head to the airport, be ready for potential delays. When flights are canceled, outlets quickly get taken. Pack a back-up battery or power device for your phone and laptop to maximize productivity during delays. Not a fan of overpriced, sub-par airport food? Pack an energy bar, bag of nuts, or fruit for some affordable sustenance.

  4. Know before you go. Departing from sunny Phoenix, Houston or Dallas-Fort Worth? You may still fall victim to a winter weather delay depending on the departure airport from which your incoming flight originated. Add an app (or two) to your smartphone’s toolkit for tracking flights. The best apps include weather for the departure and destination airports and maps showing a flight’s real-time travel progress, along with helpful gate and baggage claim information. FlightView (free; add-ons available for a fee) provides useful overviews of flight departure/arrival information. iFly Pro ($5) also includes in-depth terminal navigation maps, which can come in handy during a delay.

  5. Get rebooked faster. When a flight is canceled, weary travelers descend en mass on the rebooking desk, leading to long lines and stressed out gate agents. Expedite your rebooking process by immediately calling your airline’s support number (if you’re a frequent flier, use the number on the back of your card for faster service) and getting online via your airline’s mobile app or website while waiting in line. Some airlines will show rebooking options on their website and allow you to pick from available flights. Calling in, especially if you hold any frequent flier status, can generally get you to an agent faster. If you are a frequent flier with free lounge access, head directly to your airline’s lounge (while also calling in); lounge agents are more likely to go above and beyond to quickly accommodate your rebooking needs.

  6. Invest in a day pass for the lounge. Not a frequent flier? If things are looking grim for your day’s flight prospects, consider purchasing a day pass to the lounge. You’ll have a quiet space to work during the delay, access to complementary refreshments, and plenty of power outlets for charging. Plus, you’ll have direct access to friendly agents who are motivated to keep their best fliers happy with faster standby and flight rebooking.

  7. Consider alternative arrival cities. Can’t get on the last flight to your final destination tonight and desperate to make it home? Ask about rebooking to nearby airports (Baltimore-Washington International instead of Washington Reagan, San Antonio instead of Austin, Texas, etc.). You may have to pony up the cost for a one-way rental car, but if you absolutely need to be home (or at that major sales meeting tomorrow), this is a last ditch effort to make it there on time.

Whether you’re traveling for work or pleasure, these tips will help expedite airline re-bookings, reduce the risk for cancelations, and if all else fails, help you make the best of an otherwise miserable, snowy situation.

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