Gadling’s winter storm air travel survival guide

The recent storms have probably been the best reminder in a long time that it pays to be prepared during a storm disruption. You probably all know the basic tips to keep in mind, but we’ve gathered a couple of our own tips in this storm survival guide that could help you when your travel plans become messed up.

Some of these are important to take care of before you leave, others could help keep you (and your fellow passengers) sane when you end up being stuck at an airport for a couple of days.

Been through your own airport hell? Share your tips in the comments section!Do you have to go?

This is the most important thing you should ask yourself before you leave on a trip that will involve passing through a storm. If you are departing for a job interview or funeral, you may not have any options, but a leisure trip means you may have some flexibility.

Best of all, when airlines know things will be disrupted they’ll almost always let you do flight changes without adding change fees. In other words – if the weather reports show nastiness on the way, make a decision about the importance of your trip and change it when possible. Especially when you are traveling with kids, think about the prospect of being stuck at the airport with them for a day or two.

Check before you leave

When storms hit, you are always told to “check with your airline before departing” – but you may want to expand that to the airport, hotel, taxi service and public transport. Every part of your trip could be impacted by a storm, and merely calling the airline (or checking their web site) is not enough.

Get your tech in order

Remember the last time you used a payphone? Well, unless you carry your phone charger or a backup battery booster, you’ll be using that payphone again if you get stranded at the airport. Check out this list of gadgets for getting through a couple of days at the airport.

Before you leave, make sure you checked the weather, so you have an idea just what kind of trip this could become. There is a time for packing lightly, and a trip during a storm is not it. Double check your chargers, battery packs, cables and anything else you might need.

Keep your sanity

There is no denying that not knowing when you’ll finally be able to board a plane isn’t exactly a relaxing experience – but getting upset about it won’t help anyone.

In fact, if you approach a gate or ticket agent expecting some help, walking up to them in a bad mood will most likely not get you anywhere. Understand that everyone at the airport is in the same situation – take a deep breath, and try to make the best of it. See someone who could use some help? Offer it.

Remember the roads, not just the flights

Your flight is most likely the least of your worries – when the December storms hit New York City, plenty of planes still made it to the airport, only to deliver passengers to a destination where trains, cars, cabs and bus services were shut down.

Make checking traffic part of your pre-departure checklist, and if you have a rental car reservation, check with the local reservation office that they’ll actually be open if you arrive during a storm.

Know your way around the airport

If you find yourself stuck at the airport, with the prospect of being stuck there for an overnight stay, you’ll thank yourself for taking the time to learn your way around the terminals. Check online for the location of cots and sleeping areas, know where the 24 hour coffee shop is, where to find restrooms and changing rooms. Memorize decent quiet seating areas and prepare yourself for the worst.

One great tool for navigating airports is mobile application GateGuru. This comprehensive database of airport amenities contains everything you need to survive the airport turning into a hotel. Looking for an ATM, restaurant, Wi-Fi hotspot or electrical outlet? GateGuru has what you need. Best of all, you can submit your own tips in the app, making it another great way to kill some time.

Prepare your parked car for the snow

If you plan to park your car in an uncovered garage when a storm may hit, prepare it well – you wouldn’t be the first person to return to a vehicle buried under 10 feet of snow. Think about basic things like an antenna topper, photos of where you parked your car, noticeable features to determine where your car is, and a way to dig it out if necessary.

Leave a shovel in the trunk, along with any winter gear you may need to help dig it out. Keep in mind that locks may be frozen, and if possible, carry gloves in your luggage so you don’t need to dig through the snow in your bare hands.

Mobile apps are your best friend in a time of need…

Just ten years ago, getting anything done with the airline involved waiting in line at their service desk, or waiting on the phone with them. Nowadays, mobile apps make it easier than ever to do a lot of these things on your own. Need a hotel? Open HotelPal. Need to find alternative flights? Check Kayak or FlightTrack Pro.

By using these apps, you’ll be able to do a lot of homework on your own, and beat others to booking a room for the night. When they are on hold with the hotel chain, you could be finding affordable rooms and booking them in a matter of minutes.

Know who to call, Tweet or email

If something goes wrong on your trip, do you know who to call? Always carry phone numbers for your airline, hotel, airport and other travel providers. Nowadays, access to social media sites can also help with some airlines. Not all of them will be able (or willing) to assist, but it never hurts to Tweet and let the airline know you need their help.

Have a backup plan ready

If the weather is bad enough, your plans may be messed up for several days – do you have backup plans for spending a couple of extra days on the road? This means enough medication for 3-4 extra days, a way to find a hotel and a way to get there.

Pack wisely

Every time a bad storm hits, there are always stories of people who left their medication in their bag, or only carried enough baby food for one day. Don’t be one of those people – pack wisely, and be prepared to be without your checked luggage for at least 3 days. When flights are canceled or diverted, luggage isn’t always available, and you could easily be separated from your bags for ages. The same obviously applies to expensive items – if bags are left in a storage area for days, you never know who will be taking a peek at your belongings.

Finance wisely

Look – we all know that the economy is still in the middle of its own perfect storm, but during major disruptions, there are always reports of people stuck at the airport with just a couple of dollars left. When you travel in the winter, always make sure you have enough funds to cover several nights of hotel stays or to pay for extra cab rides. You don’t need Warren Buffet style funds, but keeping $500 stashed away is the very least you should consider.

The 10 snowiest cities in America … bundle up!

I spend all summer fantasizing about winter. From the end of May to the beginning of October, I wind up drenched in sweat, wishing I could peel off my own skin and running from one air conditioned environment to another. It’s miserable. When the biting cold of the winter season hits, I embrace it, finally able to be somewhat comfortable when I’m outside. Add a bit of snow to the equation, and the result is positively heavenly.

So, when I saw The Weather Channel’s list of snowiest cities in the United States, my mind immediately wandered to chilly places where I could hop on a sled (which I prefer to skis or snowboards), pour a big, steaming mug of hot chocolate and hurl snowballs at random passers by.

Are you into that sort of thing? Well, you’ll probably want to dash off to one of the 10 snowiest cities in the country! In case you’re wondering, here they are:

%Gallery-108139%1. Valdez, Alaska: The Weather Channel reports that this city gets 297.7 inches of snow a year, with 180 of them coming in only one month. If you go to the second snowiest city in the country, the annual average is six feet lower than it is in Valdez. Slackers.

2. Boonville, New York: Boonville just sounds like a snowy place. With 220.5 inches a year, this town in the foothills of the Adirondacks calls itself the “Snow Capital of the East” and has the powder to back up that claim.

3. Hancock, Michigan: In December, 56 inches of snow are dumped on Hancock, with another 68 inches following in January. The city averages 218 inches a year and once boasted of two feet of wet snow on June 2. This is my kind of place!

4. Crested Butte, Colorado: From November through March, you can expect at least 30 inches of snow to fall every month, with an annual average of 217.7 inches. If you like snow to shroud your Labor Day barbecue, this is the place to be – you can also find snow falling as late as the end of June.

5. Truckee, California: In the late 1800s, one storm pummeled Truckee with 10 feet of snow over two days. Since then, the elements have been merciful, if you call an annual average snowfall of 198.3 inches merciful. Do the math on this one.

6. Lead, South Dakota: Storms dropping more than 10 inches of snow hit at least three times a year in this city, which averages 187 inches of snow a year.

7. Steamboat Springs, Colorado: For 97 days a year, you can expect this mile-high city to have at least 10 inches of snow on the ground. The annual average snowfall of 175.5 inches is nothing to sneeze at.

8. Red Lodge, Montana: There have been years where snow didn’t fall in only two months – that’s what it takes to score an annual average of 173.9 inches. And, the snow lingers: there’s at least an inch on the ground 127 days a year.

9. Tahoe City, California: The snow doesn’t start to fall until November, but when it does, it comes plentifully. Tahoe City averages 170.8 inches a year.

10. Ironwood, Michigan: This city has a slightly pornographic name and a hell of a lot of snow. Ironwood averages 164.6 inches of snow a year and is a hot spot for winter sports, according to The Weather Channel.

[photo by bsabarnowl via Flickr]

Five reasons why you’ll be miserable during Thanksgiving travel

We’ve all heard that the day before Thanksgiving is the busiest of the year for air travel. And, the roads tend to get clogged up with people going to visit friends and family – not to mention stuff their faces with turkey, potatoes and other traditional holiday fare. Travel isn’t going to be fun tomorrow, but you already know that.

But, do you know why?

Personally, of course, I have no doubt you do. Like me … like everyone … you have your own collection of Thanksgiving travel horror stories (and we’d love to read them, so leave a comment!). There’s also a big picture though, which provides a bit of context as to why this travel day can be unbearable.

Let’s take a look at five reasons why Thanksgiving travel is going to suck this year:

TA’s Thanksgiving travel trends survey found 28% say Turkey Day traveling stresses them out, especially heavy traffic.less than a minute ago via HootSuite

1. You won’t be alone: AAA estimates that more than 42 million people will be traveling at least 50 miles from home for the Thanksgiving holiday. Whether you’re in an airport or on the road, you won’t be alone. Be ready to share – you won’t have a choice.

2. It gets more crowded than airports: I’ve flown my share of Thanksgiving Eves, and it is miserable. But, the roads will probably be tougher (as I cope with childhood memories that fall short of fond). AAA notes that 94 percent of these travelers – 39.7 million people – will reach their holiday destinations by car. Traffic mean’s a whole lot of “Alice’s Restaurant” while you wait to merge.

3. The weather won’t help: according to CNN, there are “[w]inter storm warnings, watches and advisories” starting in California, Utah and Nevada and going all the way up to the Canadian border. Blizzards are on the list for most of Utah, western Colorado and southern Idaho.

Have the sense to stay off the roads when driving would be colossally stupid.

4. The media won’t help: doubtless you’ve seen a few stories about body scanners and “National Opt-Out Day.” If you think this won’t lead to longer lines at airport security checkpoints (if a mass protest actually happens), you’re out of your mind. Indignation means longer waits, so if National Opt-Out Day happens, I hope for your sake you’re a supporter. There’s a good chance you aren’t, though, as 64 percent of Americans say they support the scans, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll.

There’s also a good chance you’re living in a dream world, since 70 percent of respondents to that poll believe the new TSA procedures won’t affect their flying plans.

5. It always does: right?

So, what’s your worst Thanksgiving travel experience? Leave a comment below to let us know!

[photo by atlih via Flickr]

Could a hurricane still disrupt your vacation?

If you have a vacation planned to the Gulf of Mexico coast between now and the end of November, the odds that it will get screwed up by a hurricane are declining rapidly. Hurricane season ends on November 30, and it looks like it’s going to be remembered as a pretty mild one, with only 16 named storms, nine hurricanes and five hitting Category 3 or higher. There haven’t been any major storms to make landfall.

So, it looks like 2010 will resemble 1951, according to an Insurance Information Institute blog post – the only year to have at least five major hurricanes but none actually making landfall in the United States.

There’s still a chance that a big one could disrupt your travel plans: think Hurricane Wilma in 2005, for example, which followed Hurricane Katrina and was the fourth costliest hurricane in terms of insured losses ($11.3 billion, adjusted for inflation).

[photo by NASA Goddard Photo and Video via Flickr]

Scary video shows cruise ship caught in high seas

I’ve never been on a cruise. That said, I’m sure they are quite nice – and plenty of travelers speak highly of them. But I have to admit, the video above is not doing much to convince me to get on a cruise any time soon. Apparently back in 2008, a P&O Cruises ship out of New Zealand got caught in some nasty weather about 400 miles from shore. Even this massive cruise ship, carrying over 1700 passengers, was no match for the 20 foot swells and 60 mile-per-hour winds that came with the storm.

The scary video above, recently revealed from the ship’s CCTV cameras, documents the scene as a heap of lounge furniture and a few unlucky passengers get thrown around like bathtub toys. It was likely a terrifying moment, that thankfully, most of us will never experience.

Before you cancel that sea voyage in terror, consider this: 99.9% of cruises will never have anything like this happen to them. The P&O was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

[Via Laughing Squid]