[Rick Seaney is the CEO and cofounder of FareCompare and a columnist for Investopedia. The views expressed by columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Investopedia.]
January is not a popular time to fly, though maybe it should be. Earlier this week, a deal-finding tool targeting January found round-trip deals for New York to Rome for less than $350. On the other hand, you take your chances in wintertime; there are cancelled flights due to bad weather and unforeseeable problems like a lingering government shutdown. Here’s what to do when these kinds of awful delays threaten business trips and vacation plans.
1. Government Shutdown Delays
There have been reports of spikes in shutdown-related wait times for TSA security lines in a handful of airports, including Atlanta. Elsewhere, security checkpoints temporarily closed due to security staffing concerns in Miami and Houston’s Bush Intercontinental, and the situation remains volatile. The solution of course is easy: Pay attention to the news and social media, but also resign yourself to getting to the airport early, may one or two hours earlier than normal. It might mean sitting around, being bored, but it sure beats missing a flight.
Tip: For the latest security information about checkpoint and terminal closures, follow your airline and airport on social media; that’s what the TSA tells us to do and you can follow them on Twitter, too (@TSA). Skip the TSA website, though; it is inactive for the duration of the shutdown.
2. Weather Delays
We seen a ton of bad weather this week and more is expected for a wide swath of the country in the next few days. Many airlines proactively waive change fees (which can cost $200) and allow passengers to cancel or change travel dates. Check with your airline to see if it is doing this (google the carrier’s name and travel advisories). If the weather’s looking really dicey and you can move your trip, do it.
Tip: If you must play the odds and want to try and make the flight no matter how bad the weather is, then go to the airport but have a back-up plan for a last-minute cancellation. For example, maybe your flight is cancelled but if other planes are taking off, see if you can get on one heading to a major hub, and from there, fly to your final destination. Sure, it’s a round-about way of getting there but I know it can work because I’ve done it.
3. Road Traffic Delays
Some airlines (I’m thinking of you, Southwest) allow for last minute changes with no financial penalty, but you must let them know you’ll be a no-show at least ten minutes in advance. So, if you’re stuck in traffic and won’t make the flight, call your airline (whether it’s Southwest or another); ask if a refund is available or if you can change your tickets without a penalty. If you’re flying an airline other than Southwest, it may not work, but I am aware of cases where the customer service rep took pity on the travelers and waived the fees.
Tip: It’s important to call the airline at the earliest moment possible because the sooner you make contact, the sooner you’ll be talking to an actual human being who can help get your trip back on track.
4. Misplaced ID Delays
There’s nothing like the panic of arriving at the airport and reaching for your wallet to pull out your driver’s license for security, and – no wallet. No wallet, no ID, no travel. Right? Not necessarily. Just go to the TSA agent and explain your problem; the procedure at that point is that the agent will talk to you for just a few minutes to determine if you are a legitimate traveler.
Tip: Before you travel, take a picture of the ID you’ll use to get through security. If you're traveling outside the U.S., take a photo of your passport, too. An image on a phone won’t replace a document, but it will be very helpful if the original gets lost or stolen. And look up the embassies and/or consulates along your route, if you're headed abroad. Finally, be aware of your surroundings wherever you travel and always keep a grip on your valuables.