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Travel Talk: Cover all your bases when planning winter travel

Well folks, it’s that time again. Winter. If you’re traveling at all, this can mean big trouble. What can you do? You’ve heard me say it before, and I’ll say it again: think ahead, pay attention and always, always have a Plan B.

Anticipation: When I start building a winter-month itinerary, the first thing I do is assume there will indeed be a storm affecting my travel both going and coming. Instead of trying to find flights and connections for the most speedy and convenient routings, I build in extra time, get up extra early, connect through different airports – anything to reduce the chance of getting stranded. This means opting for connections through southern airports that have a better chance of being outside of an approaching storm than, say, Philadelphia, LaGuardia, JFK, or even Reagan or Dulles.

Luckily, southern airports at Atlanta and Charlotte are actually two of the most efficient international airports in the world (visit stuckattheairport.com for more details). Even luckier for us New Hampshirites, Atlanta is a Delta Airlines hub and Charlotte is a US Airways hub – and both airlines offer routing from either Manchester or Boston.

Once you’ve selected a routing, try getting the first flight out in the morning. These flights normally use aircraft that have arrived the previous night and spent the night on the tarmac. They’ll be ready to go. Next, allow an extra hour for connecting to U.S./Caribbean destinations and at least two extra if you’re headed to Europe or other points. Worst case, you’ll have time to enjoy a lounge. Best case, you’ll handle any weather delays easily.

Be alert: Keeping up with approaching storms and their potential impact is getting easier and easier these days. There just isn’t any excuse for being surprised by snow or sleet. Not only is forecasting benefiting from technology and communications, our access to the latest info is right at our fingertips – even for dinosaurs like us who don’t have smart phones yet. We start watching the weather two weeks to 10 days out not only for our departure location, but also at all our connecting airports. Weather.com lets you set up (free) weather alerts that go right to your computer, laptop or phone, and even more apps for phones are out there. As our departure approaches, we ramp up monitoring and if there are any threats, we start checking the airline websites (flightstats.com for global info) to see if they are concerned enough to waive change fees (usually $150 to $250 per ticket).

Plan B: Stranded passengers are expensive for the airlines and can result in some very bad public relations. They’ll want to get you on your way, but will also have hundreds or even thousands of other passengers to worry about. Take charge and arm yourself with specific information about alternative flights/routings – and don’t forget to check for available seats. If you can get ahead of or behind a storm by re-booking online, great. If not, call – but call early – and in either case make sure that your total itinerary remains intact. It is a common airline policy that if you don’t show up on one leg of itinerary, the rest of the itinerary is automatically cancelled.

Bud and I have run into this in the Caribbean and the United States, and it can be a nasty surprise when you try to check in for your return flights. Lastly, don’t forget to keep your email and cell phone info updated (and devices charged). Airlines do send out emergency robo-calls and emails, and you don’t want to miss them.

(Chase Binder lives in Bow. Read her blog at travelswithchase.blogspot.com.)

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