Winter Travel Woes – 5 Tips to Mitigate Disasters

Landing at YYZ in a snow storm

Winter is a time when many of us just want to get away from the cold and snow and it’s also the time when it’s the most difficult to travel. During the polar vortex, thousands of flights were cancelled and hundreds more today when a winter storm hit Southern Ontario. Like many travelers, we’ve experienced cancellations, delays, and were often lucky to catch our connecting flights during the winter. Just in the last week, friends and family have reported being stuck on an airplane for 4 hours before their flight was cancelled and re-scheduled 1.5 days later which meant they missed close to two days of their vacation. Jason’s flight was delayed close to 6 hours because the door froze and couldn’t be shut followed by a hydraulic system failure and fuel truck went mechanical under the plane which delayed maintenance crew to work on the airplane…and the list goes on. We can’t guarantee you will experience seamless travel but we hope these tips might mitigate some difficulties during winter travel.

Grounded flight at YUL
Grounded flight at YUL

Here are 5 tips to help with winter travel:

1 – Non-stop Flights: Try to book flights with the least amount of connections and opt for non-stop when possible, even if it is more expensive. This reduces the likelihood of getting stranded on the way to catch the flight to your final destination. We can’t avoid connecting through Toronto or NYC when we go to Barbados, so we overnight at the connection point now instead of taking the red-eye. Last year due to a snowstorm that led to a flight delay, our 4 hour connecting time was reduced to 45 minutes and since there is only 1 flight to Barbados, we would have lost a whole day of our trip. This year, we overnighted in Toronto and felt much more relaxed.

Enjoying a flight delay in business class with a mimosa
Enjoying a flight delay in business class with a mimosa

2 – Travel Light: If possible, avoid checking a bag as it limits your options to re-route last-minute. We almost missed a connection but ran to the gate and were allowed to board because we didn’t have checked bags. Had we had checked bags, we would have been forced to overnight in Toronto at our expense and would most likely lost our business class seats after being rebooked. If you can make room, try to pack a blanket for those long hours at the airport.

Carry-on: pack light
Carry-on: pack light

3 – Book Direct with the Airline: If you book a flight with a 3rd party provider, airlines will often refer you back to them when things go wrong which can be stressful and frustrating. This way, you are also booking flights on one record later even if you are flying different airlines. Some 3rd party providers ticket itineraries on non-partner airlines which can lead to difficulties when things go wrong.

Flight delay board at YVR
Flight delay board at YVR

4 – Be Informed:

  • Do you know what other flight options are available?
  • Do you have travel insurance?
  • Are you tracking your flights and the weather?
  • What aircraft type is it and how is the aircraft usually scheduled?

After one of our flights was cancelled and we were rebooked to fly 5 days later, we panicked (we even had status with this airline). Since we did our research about other routings before leaving, we were able to get the agent to rebook us on another route to get home the following day. We were also able to use our travel insurance to cover out-of-pocket expenses like hotels and meals. Another time, we were tracking our flights and noticed the inbound flight was cancelled early in the day and so we made the call to drive to catch our flight. We also try to book on larger aircrafts that are positioned on international flights when possible because international flights get priority, i.e the 777-300ER that flies between YYZ-YVR is a better chose than the A321 for that reason. You might also want to look at the flight’s track record on Google Flights, FlightAware or FlightRadar24 to see how often it gets cancelled or delayed; it’s not an exact measure but you can spot trends and mitigate risks if you have a tight connection, i.e. flow control always causes delays into Seattle around 20:00 so you may not want to book a flight with 45 minutes to connect to your next flight.


Flight Aware stats for a flight
Flight Aware stats for a flight
Google Flights delay info
Google Flights delay info

5 – Patience: Everyone is stressed out and trying to get somewhere; treating airport and airline staff poorly and anger Tweeting won’t get you anywhere. Be mindful that flights often get cancelled to maintain safety overall, i.e. when crew exceeds their duty day as a result of slow downs at air traffic control, aircraft having to be de-iced and other mechanical issues that occur in extreme cold weather. When we landed in Toronto during a snow storm, we had no idea we were on the runway and everyone clapped as we realized we had in fact landed safely! Be kind, empathetic, and share your snacks with others since you’re all in this together. Who knows? Maybe you’ll make new friends, and eventually you will get to enjoy your destination!

Ocean view room at the Hilton Barbados
Beach at the Hilton Barbados

Are there any other tips that should be added to this list? Have you experienced travel interruptions during winter travel?

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