‘Tis the season of holiday travel delays. From closed roads to cancelled flights, it can be challenging to travel anywhere during the winter holidays, but millions of us will do it anyway. I’ve posted several times about planning for holiday travel, but this post is more specific: how to plan for nearly inevitable holiday travel delays.
Preparing for Road Delays
A freak winter storm, heavy fog, a rockslide, an avalanche, icy conditions, or an accident can all result in closed roads. If you have to drive this holiday, take these few precautions.
Research Backroads in Advance
You don’t want to take a last-minute mountain pass that you’ve never driven before in the dead of winter. Research your roads carefully in advance. Look for alternates that are near the main highway and avoid passes through high elevations. If your map says “closed during winter,” strike it from your list. If you’re not sure about a road’s status, call the highway service to confirm before you leave.
Monitor the Weather
Check the weather daily before your trip. If a storm develops, consider leaving a day early or a day late to avoid the middle of the storm. If you must drive on a stormy day, leave early enough to make sure you get through the worst part while it’s still daylight. Once it’s dark and temperatures drop further, even major roads could close.
Pack Snacks and Blankets
You never know when you might get stuck in an hours-long backup. If it gets bad enough, you might have to turn off the car to avoid running out of gas on the highway. So, bring snacks, car games, and blankets with you in the car. If you don’t use them, they’ll at least make nice pillows so the passengers can close their eyes for a few minutes.
Avoid Eating or Drinking Too Much
You don’t want to get dehydrated, but avoid eating or drinking heavily just in case you get stuck in a backup between bathrooms. If traffic is truly snarled, it could be hours before you can get out of the car again.
Keep Your Cell Phone Charged
Keep your cell phone charger in the car and make sure your phone is charged so you can call for help in a worst-case scenario. Also bring a list of hotels along the route in case the road is so bad you have to pull off for the night. Call ahead to book a room as soon as you know you’ll be stranded. Don’t wait until you get there or they might be sold out.
Preparing for Air Delays
On top of the usual spate of winter storms closing airports and delaying flights, now British Airways has announced a holiday strike. While I don’t expect there will be additional strikes, you should be prepared for other possibilities.
Bring Your Cell Phone and a List of Numbers
If your flight is cancelled, don’t get in that long line of people waiting to rebook. Instead, call the airline’s reservations number (which you should have with you) from your cell phone. They can probably arrange new flights faster than you’d get to the front of the line. If all flights will be cancelled for days, call hotels, car rental companies, or Amtrak from your cell phone rather than waiting in line. You’ll have much better luck. True, you might not get a free voucher, but it’s better than sleeping on the airport floor if they run out of vouchers before you reach the front of the line.
Bring Snacks and Entertainment
Most airlines don’t serve free food anymore, so you probably already packed some snacks, but pack extras for winter travel. My family was once stranded at the Philadelphia airport on a wintry Sunday for ten hours. The airport actually ran out of food. My dad bought the last pizza, and sold our extra slices to other passengers (for less than the airport’s price). Pack books or games to help pass the time between those long delays, too. Save your DVDs for the flight where you’ll be able to access a plug. Don’t bet on snagging one of the few airport plugs if flights are delayed.
Bring Your Patience
Flight delays are the worst, but there’s really nothing you can do except roll with it. Don’t snap at the workers or other passengers. You’re all in this together and it’s the holidays. Try to be pleasant and hopefully others will do the same.
Pack Essentials in Your Carry-on
Between delayed flights and crowded planes, the likelihood of losing your bags increases. So, pack a change of clothes, medications, and a few other essentials in your carry-on just in case. It’s not like you won’t use them at some point on your trip.
Everyone hopes for a smooth trip, but it’s better to be prepared than to be surprised. I’ve never regretted taking those few extra steps when preparing for my annual trek over the mountain pass or down to the airport.