More than 8,900 flights have been cancelled since Sunday for travel through Wednesday, Oct. 31, according to FlightAware. Tens of thousands of airline passengers have found their travel plans changed or cancelled, and passengers with places to go should expect to be delayed for several days until the airlines can sort out this mess.
There are a few things airlines won't tell you, however, that may give you an edge in getting where you need to go. Here are five.
Don't Check a Bag
Chances are that unless you've rebooked yourself on a flight for sometime next week, you're going to find yourself on a standby list at some point over the next few days, hoping to snag an empty seat to your destination. Putting you on that plane – or any other headed to a city somewhere near your destination if you're willing to take it – will be a lot easier for the airline if you haven't checked a bag. Do yourself a favor and carry-on only, making it easier for the airline to help you get where you want to go.
Take to Twitter
Hold times on airline 800 numbers are often hours long during a major weather event. But in recent years, airlines have been using Twitter as a tool to help re-book passengers, often far faster than can be done over the phone. At the very least, the person monitoring the airline's Twitter account will sometimes take your flight information and for the airline to call you later, potentially saving you hours on hold. Two of the best: @JetBlue and @DeltaAssist.
You Don't Have to Automatically Accept an Auto-Rebooked Flight
Ever get an email like this from your carrier? "Your flight from ABC city to XYZ city has been cancelled. We have rebooked you on a flight from ABC city to DEF city to GHI city to XYZ, three days from now. Thank you for being a loyal airline customer." If that's just not going to work for you, don't accept it. This, unfortunately, is when you do need to talk to an actual human being who can lay out all your options. The airline will automatically book you from your original departure city to your original destination city, but there may be direct flights to or from nearby cities that are more desirable to you. You may be able to get around those hold times, however, by using social media (see No. 2).
It Takes Longer to Accommodate Families than Single Passengers
Airlines have cut their capacity in recent years, meaning there are far fewer empty seats on planes than just a few years ago. It only makes sense for the airlines – they are a business after all – to put a paying passenger in every single seat when possible. That means that as the airlines begin to re-book stranded travelers, those travelers are going to have to fill in whatever empty seats weren't already booked. How is the airline going to accommodate your family of four on a flight where there's only two seats? They're not. You're going to end up waiting longer to find four seats on a flight to your destination. This is when it's crucial to be flexible. Can mom take one child on a flight and dad take the other on another flight? Can you fly to somewhere near your destination rather than the closest airport to your home? Be flexible, be creative, be willing to drive a bit – it will all help you get to where you need to go faster.
The Airline is Not Required to Put You Up in a Hotel
Stay with friends and family if possible. If it's not, remember that airport hotels fill up quickly. But you may have better luck finding a room in the city than at the airport. To get the best possible deals on same day bookings, use apps like HotelTonight to find same-day, unsold hotel inventory near you. Several other similar apps have recently emerged and are worth checking out – Travelocity's LastMinute.com Hotel booking app and Hotels by Orbitz.
What About Flights Set to Leave Wednesday, Oct. 31 and Later?
Airlines are expecting to resume normal operations on Wednesday. Flight cancellations are non-existent right now for Wednesday and later. Travelers should plan to fly as usual. But show up to the airport early because the airline will be looking to give away seats to stranded passengers. It's important, however, to keep checking your flight status on the carrier's site as the storm develops.