Getting home in time for turkey dinner is going to be a difficult task for many traveling Americans this week. A winter-like storm that packed a wallop on the western part of the nation is making its way east. Rain, freezing rain and even some snow is expected to arrive along the Eastern Seaboard Tuesday evening through Wednesday night.
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"It seems like every year at this time something happens," said George Hobica, president of AirfareWatchdog.com. "It's a good time of year to buy travel insurance. Even if you can get a refund on your cancelled flight, the insurance can cover the cost of a non-refundable hotel room or your cruise."
Tuesday and Wednesday are two of the busiest travel days for the Thanksgiving holiday travel period. What to do if your flight is cancelled or you're worried it will be? Here's your 5-step plan to get to Thanksgiving dinner on time:
1. See if your airline has issued a flexible travel policy. These are found on the airline's homepage, typically under "Travel Alerts." Delta, JetBlue, US Airways and United have already issued their policies which waive change fees.
2. Know your options. Find an acceptable alternate flight. The sooner you can leave, the better. Flights will be fuller as the day goes on and at their peak capacity Wednesday afternoon and Wednesday night.
3. Consider flying on Thursday. It's traditionally a slow day for the airlines and you're likely to get a seat. If you can get an early-morning flight, you'll still make it on time, especially if you're flying west and can take advantage of the time change.
4. Take to Twitter: Tweet your airline with your flight confirmation number and the information about the flight you'd like to be on. A few helpful Twitter handles: @deltaassit, @jetblue, @AmericanAir and @United. As a second choice, call your airline to change your flight. Again, the sooner you do this the more options you'll have and the less time you'll wait on hold.
5. Don't check bags: If your flight is cancelled once you're at the airport, it will be far easier for the airline to accommodate you on another flight -- even on another airline -- if they don't have to chase down your bags. In fact, they won't chase down your bags, so better to pack into a carry on.
Flight cancellations had not yet begun piling up as of Tuesday morning, but at least four airlines have issued flexible change policies, the precursor to cancelling flights. Word to the wise: don't wait until your flight is cancelled to contact the airline. Take advantage of flexible travel policies that waive change fees to get out ahead of the storm.
And keep in mind that while airlines issue flexible travel policies in the case of bad weather, they're not always useful around the holidays when travelers' plans are so dependent on getting to their destination for a particular event, like Thanksgiving dinner. "If you're going to miss the dinner anyway, opt for the refund," said Hobica. Airlines will refund your money if the flight is cancelled.
Even those whose flights are scheduled ahead of the bad weather -- due to arrive Tuesday evening in the Northeast -- aren't necessarily in the clear. Airlines are apt to cancel flights ahead of the weather to keep from stranding passengers at the airport and to keep aircraft in place for a faster return to a normal schedule once the weather clears.
Airlines for America, an industry trade organization for U.S. airlines, projected 25 million passengers will fly during the 12-day Thanksgiving travel period that began Friday.
Cancellations as a result of the winter-like storm over the weekend resulted in the cancellation of 1400 domestic flights through Monday. Dallas-Fort Worth, a hub for American Airlines, had the greatest number of cancellations. American Airlines and American Eagle cancelled nearly 1000 flights.