MONEY Travel

5 Strategies for Dealing With Your Flight Cancellation

Travelers make their way through security lines at Denver International Airport, November 27, 2013.
RJ Sangosti—Denver Post via Getty Images

With storms threatening to put your travel plans on ice, don't head to the airport unprepared. Instead, go on the defensive with these moves.

With more than 5,000 flights already cancelled ahead of the big winter storm set to blanket the Northeast this week, travelers may want to prepare for a rough time at the airport.

Though cancellations have been light so far this month compared with January 2014, when 3.5 million people were grounded because of called-off flights, the worst may be yet to come, as the blizzard is expected to hit hard in major transportation hubs like New York City. American and United have both announced plans to suspend all flights on Tuesday in New York, Philadelphia, and Boston. All major carriers have already announced that they will waive change fees for storm-canceled flights.

Airlines are relatively quick to cancel domestic flights, says Tulinda Larsen, president of airline operations analysis firm masFlight. According to a masFlight data, a domestic cancellation costs the airline an average of $6,000, versus as much as $40,000 for an international route.

Even once operations resume on Wednesday, travel headaches are likely to persist. Here are 5 tips to help get you to your destination as quickly as possible, sanity intact.

1. Check in early

If your flight has been rescheduled, don’t relax just yet: In bad weather, oversold flights can be more of a problem, as stranded passengers buy up any open seats.

Your best defense against getting bumped? Checking in online as close to 24 hours ahead of time as possible, according to TripAdvisor travel advocate Wendy Perrin. Not only will you be less likely to lose your seat, but you will also have the best shot at choosing a good one.

2. Stay informed in real-time

Those facing a called-off flight shouldn’t just let the airline automatically rebook. First, check out FlightStats.com, which shows delayed and canceled flights all across the country. There may be a different itinerary that’s a better fit for your schedule.

3. Know your options

Each airline has its own policies when it comes to weather-related cancellations and delays; there are no federal requirements. Still, in the event of a delay, some airlines will pay for meals or other amenities, so it’s worth asking (more on that below). If your flight is cancelled, the carrier may be willing to put you on a flight with a different airline, so check out those options too.

4. Photograph your valuables

Losing expensive belongings is always upsetting, but tack on a crazy snowstorm and chaotic airport and you have the formula for a nervous breakdown. Be prepared for the worst by keeping receipts for, and snapshots of, anything pricey in your luggage. Airlines are legally obligated to reimburse up to $3,300 for your lost possessions.

5. Turn on the charm

Whether you’re dealing with lost luggage, delays, a cancelled flight, or any other travel nightmare, it’s important to be as polite as possible when making a complaint. “Take a deep breath. Remember that despite everything that has happened, you are still alive and, in fact, breathing. Then come talk to me and explain your situation,” writes flight attendant Cary Trey at ThePointsGuy.com.

Going a step beyond politeness and being extra kind to the person you’re dealing with—who, let’s face it, has probably been having a pretty bad day, too—can’t hurt. Trey suggests carrying mini-boxes of chocolates to show gratitude to those who go the extra mile to help you out.

If that sounds like a bit much, even a simple, “Thank you so much for your help!” will be enough make you stand out from the grumbling masses.

 

TIME weather

10 Questions About the Blizzard

Jack Nicholson In 'The Shining'
Don't go there; it will all be over soon Warner Brothers/Getty Images

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

Hint: All of them can be answered 'No'

1. Does this storm prove global warming is really just a hoax cooked up by degenerate scientists like my Twitter feed keeps saying? No. Again: no. Absolutely, positively no. This is weather, not climate. Just like a collie isn’t a species, a crouton isn’t a salad and the aglet on your shoelace ain’t the whole shoe, so too is a single meteorological event in your town (or state or region) not the same as climate. All the same, you’ll hear a lot of self-satisfied huffing from climate change deniers this week. Please feel free to laugh at them.

2. Then is the blizzard a result of climate change—the much discussed “global weirding”? If we’re going to smack down the anti-science kooks on question one, let’s resist the urge for a touchdown dance on question two. It’s true that climate change means a growing number of extreme weather events, and the spike in storms like 2012’s Sandy that do a billion dollars of damage or more do fit with climate change models. But again, any one storm is proof only of that storm. And hey, when you’re getting three feet of snow, that should be trouble enough.

3. Speaking of Sandy, do I have to call the blizzard Juno? No. Indeed, please don’t. Unlike hurricanes, which are named by the World Meteorological Organization as part of a longstanding global tradition, Juno was named by the Weather Channel, as part of a somewhat newer tradition of thinking up scary names that sound good on TV. You are free to give this blizzard any name you want. I’m calling it Larry.

4. What about “nor’easter?” Can I call the blizzard that? Are you a lobster fisherman? From Maine? If not, no.

5. Is “blizzard” just a synonym, for “lots o’ snow”? Nope, there’s actually a technical definition: There must be falling snow (or blowing snow already on the ground), with winds of at least 35 mph (56 k/h) reducing visibility to no more than 0.25 mile (0.4 km) for at least three hours.

6. Do I really need 12 tins of powdered milk, a case of canned tuna and five dozen double-A batteries to get through this? Yes, if it’s 1952 and you’re packing a fallout shelter. Otherwise, we’re talking a couple of snow days at the most—followed by the risk of way too many tuna casseroles for the rest of the year if you don’t get ahold of yourself.

7. Does it have to be so flipping cold for a blizzard to happen? This may not be much comfort to you, Concord, NH, where it’s 14°F (-10°C) in the run-up to the big blast, but no, as long as the atmospheric temperature is 32°F (0°C) or below, snow can form. It can even be a few degrees warmer on the ground, but the snow that falls will quickly become slush or, as it’s known on the sidewalks of New York City, goo.

8. I’ve heard this storm is a result of meteorological “bombogenesis.” Surely the people at weather service are smoking something? Alas no. Bombogenesis is a real word and it occurs when the barometric pressure in the most intense part of a storm drops more than 24 millibars in 24 hours. Lower pressure then causes cold air to rush toward the ground and warmer air to rise. This isn’t to say the weather service doesn’t have fun saying “bombogenesis” over and over and over again. They’re meteorologists, but hey, they’re people too.

9. Once the blizzard’s over, we’re cool, right? Nope. Arctic air is going to continue to barrel through the northeast into February, keeping temperatures well below normal. As for the upper Midwest, where it’s usually only slightly more comfortable than the planet Neptune (-378°F, with a likelihood of graphite hailstones) around this time of year: Nice and mild.

10. If I have kids, is there any chance at all that I won’t hear them singing the score from Frozen while we’re all trapped in the house together for the next 48 hours? No. None at all. Deal with it—and don’t watch The Shining. It will only give you ideas.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY consumer psychology

Panic Shopping! How a Blizzard Turns Us into Irrational Hoarders at the Grocery Store

A long line of shoppers wait beside mostly-empty shelves in the bread aisle of a grocery store, as people stocked up on items ahead of an approaching snowstorm, in Alexandria, Virginia, USA, 12 February 2014.
A long line of shoppers wait beside mostly-empty shelves in the bread aisle of a grocery store, as people stocked up on items ahead of an approaching snowstorm, in Alexandria, Virginia, USA, 12 February 2014. Michael Reynolds—epa/Corbis

Weather forecasts aren't nearly as reliable as the reaction by shoppers when a bad storm has been predicted. And by reaction we mean overreaction.

Almost exactly a year ago, supermarkets cashed in as shoppers rushed in and ransacked store shelves in anticipation of snowy weather and the polar vortex’s subzero temperatures hitting a broad swath of the country. This week, it’s largely the same story in the Northeast, what with a historic blizzard said to be threatening New England and much of the Mid-Atlantic region.

Over the weekend, the panic hoarding began, with shoppers emptying grocery store shelves and grabbing every last loaf of bread, carton of eggs, and bottle of milk in sight. On Sunday, shoppers at one New Jersey supermarket reported it being nearly impossible to find a parking spot outside the store, while inside the scene was one of empty coolers where milk used to be, employees fighting through crowds to restock shelves, and endless lines snaking away from cash registers. Likewise, shoppers have been sharing photos of the crazy mob scenes over the weekend inside grocery stores in Boston, New York City, and elsewhere with #Snowmaggedon2015, #Blizzardof2015, or whatever your preferred nickname is for the storm.

By now, this kind of pre-storm mad rush at the supermarket is to be expected. Heck, it’s far more reliable than the actual weather forecasts ever are. And to some extent, this behavior is reasonable. We’re relentlessly instructed to take precautions, prepare for the worst, go the route of better safe than sorry, and … you get the gist. You don’t want to be stuck in a blizzard without a shovel or enough food to last for a few days, after all.

Yet, as with so many other things involving human beings, there’s a tendency to go completely overboard. What starts out as a prudent and sensible shopping excursion can quickly devolve into a frenzied, agitated exercise in hoarding at an overcrowded supermarket or hardware store, as the ugly, primal side of humanity rises to the surface.

During the polar vortex of early 2014, for instance, some supermarket customers reported that meat and bread were swiped from their shopping carts while their backs were turned. Ever since Superstorm Sandy left gas stations without gas and led to some instances of price gouging where gas was available, drivers have been known to flock to the pumps to fill up when a big storm is in the forecast. Far more often than not, of course, it’s wholly unnecessary to wait in line for 30 minutes or longer just to top off your gas tank.

What is it, then, that pushes us over the edge? Why do shoppers head out to the store in preparation of some snow and perhaps a couple days without power, and then they (OK—we) wind up hoarding all manner of goods as if preparing for the apocalypse?

Part of the explanation is mob mentality. When we see others streaming into stores and snatching up perishable goods by the cartload, we feel pressure to do the same. Perhaps, we think, these crazed shoppers all around us know something we don’t? It’s easy to see how this mentality snowballs—excuse the pun—when an epic blizzard is expected. This kind of thinking also pushes consumers into the realm of irrationality on days like Black Friday, when the bustle of crowds and competition causes people to overreact and buy things they wouldn’t have had there not been dozens of shoppers fighting to get their hands on some supposedly hot, must-have holiday purchase.

Consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow, an author and frequent TIME and MONEY contributor, explained via email that no matter if it’s Black Friday or the day before a blizzard or hurricane is about to hit, when crowds descend on stores we essentially revert to cavemen. “Clearly we’re responding to emotions and crowds, and our brains are a few steps behind,” said Yarrow. What else could explain the act of rampaging through the supermarket and “greedily grabbing the last can of Spam”?

“It starts with a normal impulse to stock up on things that might not be available for a few days,” Yarrow said. “Panic hits when the stores are jammed with other shoppers and the shelves look a little bare. It’s not so much a thought as it is an impulse that hits, and it’s associated with the caveman parts of our brain that take over when we perceive we might be in physical danger. We are prewired to fight for food when we sense that resources are scarce.”

Afterwards, we’re likely to look back on our behavior with puzzlement, and perhaps embarrassment. “Shoppers are going to find that canned food in the back of their pantries someday and wonder what they were thinking,” said Yarrow. “The fact is, they really weren’t thinking. Primal brain took over.”

Try to keep this in mind when, inevitably, the next “historic” storm is on the horizon and your supermarket seems to have been invaded by hoarding barbarian masses. By then, however, it’ll probably be too late. You’ll be in the store, not thinking, and instead following the primal impulse to race to get the last loaf of bread before it’s gone.

Speaking of which, anyone have any good recipes that involve Spam? Somehow, I have a bunch in the pantry, though I don’t remember even buying them.

TIME weather

Millions Dig in as ‘Crippling’ Winter Blizzard Slams Northeast

"This could be a storm the likes of which we have never seen before"

A long awaited blizzard of potentially historic proportions began inundating the American northeast on Monday night — turning cities across the region into virtual ghost towns as residents hunkered down indoors.

As the first storm bands moved across the East Coast, snow fell at a rate of 2 to 4 inches an hour at times, according to CNN. Meanwhile, winds exceeding 70 mph lashed the New England coastline.

Cities from Pennsylvania to Maine prepared for snowfalls in excess of two feet. Airlines canceled thousands of flights, public-transportation systems wound down, governors declared states of emergency, and officials said they would institute far-reaching travel bans to keep people off the roads.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said subways and buses in New York City would stop running at 11 p.m. and warned that the situation would be “exponentially worse” by Tuesday morning. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered drivers to be off the roads by 11 p.m.

“This will most likely be one of the largest blizzards in the history of New York City,” de Blasio said.

Boston was bracing for the worst, expecting as much as three feet of snow, compared with about two feet in New York and more than a foot in Philadelphia. By early Monday evening more than 5,000 flights had been canceled in preparation for the storm, including all flights out of Boston Logan Airport starting as early as 7 p.m. Monday.

“This is a top-five historic storm, and we should treat it as such,” Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said. “This is clearly going to be a really big deal.”

The governors of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York each declared states of emergency. Travel restrictions in each state were set to begin Monday evening, when the heaviest snowfall was expected to start.

MORE: Here’s Who Decides if Your Flight Takes Off This Week

The National Weather Service described the storm as “crippling and potentially historic,” and warned of “life-threatening conditions” on roadways. Officials from New York to Boston warned residents to remain indoors if possible.

In New York City, thousands of city workers scrambled to prepare 6,000 miles of roads to operate during the storm. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said that travel would be “hazardous” on Monday and Tuesday, and commuter-rail lines were expected to halt service overnight. Cuomo asked city residents to expedite their schedules to avoid evening delays.

All Broadway theater performances scheduled for Monday were canceled, according to an afternoon statement from Charlotte St. Martin, the executive director of the Broadway League.

MORE: Why Blizzards Turn Us Into Irrational Hoarders at the Grocery Store

In Massachusetts, Baker warned of power outages and a frozen transportation system in his state, where forecasters predicted winds of up to 75 m.p.h.

“People across Massachusetts should presume that roads … will be very hard, if not impossible, to navigate, that power outages are a distinct possibility, and that most forms of public transportation may not be available,” he said.

TIME

Morning Must Reads: January 26

Capitol
The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

‘Historic’ Storm Headed for Northeast U.S.

A “potentially historic” storm could dump 2 to 3 ft. of snow from New Jersey to Connecticut on Monday, crippling a region largely spared so far this winter. “This could be a storm the likes of which we have never seen before,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio

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See All the Screen Actors Guild Awards Winners

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Greece’s Anti-Bailout Syriza Party Wins Historic Victory

A radical left-wing party that is demanding an end to Greece’s painful austerity measures won Sunday’s parliamentary elections, threatening renewed turmoil in global markets and throwing the country’s continued membership in the Eurozone into question

Miss Colombia Paulina Vega Named Miss Universe

Miss Colombia Paulina Vega, 21, was crowned Miss Universe in a live show in Miami on Sunday night. Miss USA Nia Sanchez from Las Vegas was named runner-up, along with Miss Ukraine Diana Harkusha

Japan Seeks Jordan’s Help on Gaining Hostage’s Release

Japan sought help from Jordan and other countries on Monday in its race to save a hostage held by the extremist Islamic State group, with no signs of progress on securing his release. The group said in an online video on Jan. 20 that it had two Japanese hostages

Duke Basketball Coach Is First to Get 1,000 Wins

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski became the first NCAA Division I men’s coach to reach 1,000 career wins when the Blue Devils defeated St. John’s 77-68 at Madison Square Garden. “I was just trying to survive this game,” he said

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TIME weather

Storm Threatens Northeast U.S. With Up to 2 Feet of Snow

Winter Weather
Irv Rosenberg, of Boston, uses cross country skis on the Esplanade in Boston, Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015. Michael Dwyer—AP

"This could be a storm the likes of which we have never seen before"

(NEW YORK) — Northeast residents are girding for a “crippling and potentially historic” storm that could bury communities from northern New Jersey to southern Maine in up to 2 feet of snow.

The National Weather Service said the nor’easter would bring heavy snow, powerful winds and widespread coastal flooding starting Monday and through Tuesday. A blizzard warning was issued for a 250-mile stretch of the Northeast, including New York and Boston.

Government officials began to activate emergency centers on Sunday as professional sports teams, schools and utilities hastily revised their schedules and made preparations.

“This could be a storm the likes of which we have never seen before,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told a news conference in a Manhattan sanitation garage where workers were preparing plows and salt for the massive cleanup on about 6,000 miles of city roadways.

In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker warned residents to prepare for roads that are “very hard, if not impossible, to navigate,” power outages and possibly even a lack of public transportation.

Boston is expected to get 18 to 24 inches of snow, with up to 2 feet or more west of the city, and Philadelphia could see up to a foot, the weather service said.

The Washington area expected only a couple of inches, with steadily increasing amounts as the storm heads north.

“We do anticipate very heavy snowfall totals,” said Bob Oravec, lead forecaster with the weather service in College Park, Maryland. “In addition to heavy snow, with blizzard warnings, there’s a big threat of high, damaging winds, and that will be increasing Monday into Tuesday. A lot of blowing, drifting and such.”

Wind gusts of 75 mph or more are possible for coastal areas of Massachusetts, and up to 50 mph further inland, Oravec said.

Airlines prepared to shut down operations along the East Coast, leading to the expected cancellation of about 1,700 flights scheduled for Monday, according to the flight tracking site FlightAware.

A storm system driving out of the Midwest brought several inches of snow to Ohio on Sunday. A new low pressure system was expected to form off the Carolina coast and ultimately spread from the nation’s capital to Maine for a “crippling and potentially historic blizzard,” the weather service said.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged commuters to stay home on Monday and warned that mass transit and roadways could be closed before the evening rush hour, even major highways such as the New York Thruway, Interstate 84 and the Long Island Expressway.

In New York City, the Greater New York Taxi Association offered free cab service for emergency responders trying to get to work, and disabled and elderly residents who become stranded.

The New York Rangers decided to practice Monday afternoon at the Islanders’ home arena on Long Island instead of at their own training facility just outside New York City. They’ll stay overnight on Long Island for Tuesday’s game against their rival — if it’s still held.

The Super Bowl-bound New England Patriots expected to be out of town by the time the storm arrives in Boston. The team plans to leave Logan Airport at 12:30 p.m. Monday for Phoenix, where the temperature will reach the high 60s.

 

TIME weather

‘Paralyzing’ Blizzard to Bury Northeast in Snow

Nor'easter Storm Brings Light Snow To New York
A woman walks dogs in Brooklyn's Prospect Park following an evening storm on Jan. 24, 2015 in New York City. Spencer Platt—Getty Images

Up to 2 feet of snow forecast for early next week

New England is braced for “paralyzing, crippling blizzard-like conditions” as the second East Coast winter storm in as many days threatens to dump up to two feet of snow in some areas, forecasters said.

Boston and New York City will see high winds and possibly “significant” snow accumulations as an Alberta clipper moves through the Ohio Valley Sunday and off the Mid-Atlantic coast Monday before intensifying over Long Island and New England through Wednesday.

“This is going to be a big one, historic,” Weather Channel coordinating meteorologist Tom Moore said. “There could be paralyzing, crippling blizzard conditions. They’re going to …

Read more from our partners at NBCNews.com

 

TIME weather

Northeast Storm Strengthens After Dumping Snow on Millions

Nor'easter Storm Brings Light Snow To New York
A man takes a picture of ducks and geese at a lake in Brooklyn's Prospect Park following an evening storm on Jan. 24, 2015 in New York City. Spencer Platt—Getty Images

Millions across the Northeast woke up to a blanket of white Saturday morning after an overnight storm, which was expected to last through the day, dropped several inches of snow in some parts. By Saturday afternoon, New England was experiencing the brunt of the storm, with the largest accumulation falling in Hartford County, Connecticut, which had 8 inches by 1 p.m. Rhode Island, Maine and Massachusetts could also expect 6 to 10 inches, according to the National Weather Service. Those areas can also expect to be hit with gusty winds.

The “front-end” of the storm delivered up to 9 inches of powder in areas of Connecticut and New Jersey…

Read the rest of the story from our partner NBCNews.com

TIME weather

Winter Storm Is Turning the Northeast Into a Wonderland

It's cold and getting colder

A winter snow storm that blanketed the northeastern United States early Saturday morning shows no signs of letting up. The storm delivered some nine inches of snow in parts of New Jersey and Connecticut, while New York City got five inches according to Weather.com. More northern parts of the state got as much as 9 inches. In the afternoon, rain turned to snow creating slushy conditions. Another cold front is expected in the region on Monday.

TIME weather

Brace Yourself: A Big Storm Is Coming to the East Coast

National Weather Service

Some regions may see a foot of snow

A nor’easter could wreak havoc all along the East Coast over the next 24 hours, with a mix of rain and snow that will likely cause airline and traffic delays along the I-81 and I-95 corridors.

Up to a foot of snow could accumulate in some locations, AccuWeather.com reports. Snow heavy with added rainfall could also bring down trees and power lines.

Check your local weather for specific predictions, and get ready for a good snow-shoveling workout.

[AccuWeather]

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