(CNN) — Thousands of Thursday and Friday flights have already been canceled as holiday travelers try to get to their destination.
US air travelers performed well during the Labor Day and Thanksgiving holidays, July 4, with largely favorable weather conditions. But for Christmas we are in for a different story.
“Our luck may finally have run out,” Scott Keyes, founder of discount travel site Scott’s Cheap Flights, told CNN this week.
Yes, it certainly looks that way to many travelers.
A polar eruption and a “bomb cyclone,” what the National Weather Service calls a “one-in-a-generation event,” brings deadly cold, possible blizzard conditions, and a notorious piece of coal to our travel socks. And all of that coincides with a season of travel that is returning to crowded, nearly pre-pandemic levels.
Auto and travel membership club AAA expects around 113 million people to travel during the year-end holiday season.
Passengers, for their flight Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in Minnesota on Wednesday.
Air travel strategies
The number of passengers expected to fly – 7.2 million – is just under 7.3 million in 2019.
But mother nature has the last word. “Airlines have no safety protocol or preparation to make it safe to land or take off in the middle of a snowstorm,” Keyes said.
How to deal? Here are some strategies:
• Take advantage of airline travel exemptions to leave earlier or reroute itineraries.
Here are links to disclaimers of major airlines that allow rebooking at short notice with impunity:
If your flight is canceled, consider flying on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, said Kathleen Bangs, a FlightAware spokesperson and a former airline pilot. While there are fewer flights, there are fewer passengers.
“Planning the first flight of the day is a great way to avoid flight delays,” Jeff Klee, CEO of CheapAir.com, told CNN Travel in a recent email. “Research shows that first flights of the day are more likely to take off and arrive on time.”
Passengers walk through Terminal 3 at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on Monday
Nam Y. Huh/AP
• Line up your travel gear.
The FlightAware app and airline apps send alerts directly to your phone.
• Be ready to multitask if your flight is delayed or canceled.
“Place yourself close to the agents’ desk,” Keyes previously told CNN Travel readers. And call while you’re in line to increase your chances of finding a faster solution.
Keyes recommends calling an airline’s international offices rather than competing with ratings from other domestic passengers.
It also encourages passengers to learn about inter-line agreements between airlines. Your airline can take you to your destination by boarding you on another carrier.
• Know your rights and be prepared to negotiate.
Keyes said that because so many flights were oversold, airlines would be looking for volunteers to leave their seats and move on to a later flight. If you have flexibility in your plans, you can negotiate for better compensation.
Airlines can start offering $250 or $300 travel credits to passengers who want to give up their seats. “You don’t have to take the first offer. Expect these offers to keep increasing,” Keyes said. In many cases, passengers said they could get $1,000 or more in credit.
• Check your credit card’s travel protection.
Keyes said many credit cards offer reimbursement for expenses like hotels if you miss a connection, or compensation if your bag is lost. “But only if you use that credit card to buy your flight,” Keyes said.
• Take plenty of time. “The number one thing – I can’t stress this enough is that you have to get to the airport early and well before your flight time,” said Gautam Thakkar, CEO of Unifi Aviation, the largest aviation services provider in the United States. “For example, if you’re traveling with a lot of luggage or packages to check in, arriving two hours early may not be enough.”
• Pack lightly. “The best way to ensure that all luggage arrives safely at a passenger’s destination is not to check a bag. Lightweight packing and handling is a great way to save money and make sure your luggage will arrive at your destination with you,” he said.
Safety tips for road trips
Most travelers — about 102 million Americans, according to the AAA’s estimate — are expected to drive.
When traveling by car in winter, it’s important to be prepared for the road.
Take care of your vehicle as recommended by the manufacturer and do the followingThe U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends:
• Have the radiator system serviced or check the antifreeze level with an antifreeze tester. Add antifreeze if necessary.
• Change the windshield wiper fluid with a winter-grade mixture. (will contain additives to prevent freezing).
• Make sure the tires have adequate tread and air pressure, you can measure this with a tire gauge. Replace the worn tires and fill the low tires with air to the recommended pressure for your vehicle.
• Keep the fuel tank almost full to prevent icing on the tank and fuel lines.
• Keep your car in proper working condition by checking the heater, defroster, brakes, brake fluid, ignition, emergency flashers, exhaust, oil and battery.
Take things you will need in an emergency with you. Things like:
• Non-perishable, high-energy foods such as nuts, granola bars, dried fruit, or cured beef
• bottled water (Using an insulated bottle can help prevent freezing.)
• first aid kit including adhesive bandages, medical tape, antiseptic wipes, gauze, antiseptic cream, medical dressing and pocket knife
• Clothes to keep you warm — hats, wool socks, coats, hand and foot warmers, gloves, scarves and blankets
• Battery operated flashlight, extra batteries and flares
• Jumper cables, fully charged jumper cables or an external battery charger to start your car when the battery runs out
• Basic tool kit
• Tire or drag chains
• Glass scraper for cleaning windows
A few beacons of hope for air travelers
The next few days are looking daunting, but there are a few things for air travelers this week.
Bangs points out that US air carriers have more staff than at this time last year, despite a loss in experience level.
The industry group Airlines for America said in a recent media briefing that the industry is adding about 4,600 employees per month. The organization said airlines are increasing hiring, reducing capacity and creating reserves and buffers to improve performance.
While flu, RSV, and Covid are proving to be a triple respiratory threat, it doesn’t seem to be wreaking havoc on workers that the Omicron strain did at Christmas last year, Bangs said.
Finally, the timing of Christmas Day and New Year’s Day can help.
“This year, travel time will be extended as Christmas Day and New Year’s Day coincide with Sunday,” Paula Twidale, AAA’s senior vice president of travel, said in a statement.
“With hybrid work schedules, we’re seeing more people spending long weekends traveling because they can work remotely at their destination and be more flexible about their departure and return days.”
With a longer timetable to play, passengers will have more options when it comes to finding new flights. And with the winter weather the United States is experiencing, that flexibility can be especially important this holiday season.
Kristen Rogers of CNN contributed to this report.
Top image: Workers ice an Alaska Airlines plane at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Tuesday, December 20. Much of the rest of the United States will see inclement weather in the days ahead.