What To Do When Your Winter Holiday Travel Plans Go A Little – Or Terribly – Awry

Last winter, an up and coming librarian (let’s call her Brenda) was thrilled to be giving her first national presentation at a convention in Washington D.C. Her departure day came… and went without her. As often happens during the winter months, a snowstorm hit. This one was a doozy, closing down Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

Despite hours online and on the phone with disinterested representatives from the travel site she used for her airline and hotel reservations, Brenda missed her flight. She missed the conference, never making it out of her hometown. All that time and effort put into her presentation—gone. The important connections she could have made—never got the chance. The money she thought she’d saved booking travel herself—non-refundable, all $800 of it.

Brenda’s is just one of many “travel plans gone wrong” stories. Many a business trip, family dinner and vacation never happened during winter and holiday travel time due to brutal weather.

The difference between ultimately arriving at your destination and getting nowhere (physically and with customer service reps) is knowing what to do when your holiday travel plans go astray.

Use a professional travel agent to book winter or holiday travel. Your travel agent’s industry connections open the door for other options to rebook your flight, even if that means a different airline. Gate agents tend to rebook travelers on their own airline, and you’re fighting for seats with the hundreds or thousands of other delayed passengers. A travel agent has every available option at their disposal and will be able to get you to your destination quicker with less hassle on your part. Your agent is doing the work and you’re not waiting on long, frustrating queues with disgruntled flyers.

You and your travel agent should sign up for text, email, etc. alerts from the airline on which you’re traveling. If your flight is cancelled or delayed, you’ll find out immediately. Depending on the time of notification, you could possibly enjoy a few more hours doing your own thing versus wasting time sitting around the airport.

If you’ve achieved a top tier frequent flyer account status, take advantage of it. Look for those dedicated lines and representatives because you’ve earned access to shorter waits and better service.

If your holiday travel is delayed for an extended period, say overnight, you may be entitled to a complimentary hotel stay, especially if the airline is at fault due to crew problems, mechanical issues, etc. However, if the delay is an “act of God” such as inclement weather, a labor strike, etc., you’re more than likely on your own for accommodations. And here’s another reason to use a travel agent: airlines send agents alerts and contingency plans when delays are anticipated. Advanced warning gives your travel agent time to rearrange your flight and hotel arrangements. No muss and no fuss on your part.

Holiday and leisure travel plans coincide with winter, so travel insurance is highly recommended. Even if you live in a warmer climate, weather in other parts of the country (anytime September through March) can affect your flight. Conditions at other airports can cause system wide cancellations and delays. Investing in travel insurance can’t stop ice, snow or hurricanes, but it could recoup 50-100% of your cost, depending on the coverage you select. Insurance is strongly recommended anytime children are involved. A child’s illness can impact your holiday travel plans whether he or she is travelling with you or not.

It’s frustrating, to say the least, anytime your plans go awry. But never so much as when holiday travel plans are impacted. When flights are delayed or plans are turned upside down, a great travel agent is the one person working on your behalf, rescheduling, rebooking and working miracles to save the day.  Consider them an investment – for both your wallet and your sanity.

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