Canceled flights: Don’t let them make you miss the cruise

cancelled flights miss the cruiseIf your plans for an upcoming cruise include flying to the port in the next few days, odds are your flight could be delayed. With the massive storm crippling travel throughout the US and canceling thousands of flights, service could be disrupted for several days. What hurts is knowing that at the end of the day you could be in sunny Florida or some other fair-weather area, if you can only get there. Savvy travelers know a few golden rules of doing a cruise vacation in the Winter that can increase the odds of making it to the port and keep you confident of your travel plans should a storm develop.

Buy travel insurance and know how to use it. Travel insurance on flights only is cheap but just one step towards what you need. The problem here is not that you are unable to make the flight, but that you might miss the ship. Carefully consider your insurance options. The best option is not always the cruise line insurance. Every insurance company has a toll-free 800-number to call with your “What if?” questions. Do that. Make sure you understand what happens if you miss the the ship and what your options are. In most cases, travel insurance reimburses you for covered expenses. You will need to have funds available to cover those expenses as they occur. If you thought ahead and bought travel insurance, you might be covered as many policies include protection against flight delays. Finding another flight might be a different story altogether though.Have a back-up plan. A good idea when flying during a time when flight delays are likely is to have backup flights already planned. It’s easy enough to do too. If you book your own airfare, make note of those other fights that didn’t seem quite so convenient compared to the flights you selected when you bought them. Later on, if your flight is delayed or canceled, those you passed on the first time may look really good.

Fly in the day before. This is a good idea no matter when you fly and from where. It gives you a huge cushion of time to absorb flight delays or cancellations. Consider the time of year you are flying too. Wise cruise passengers traveling this week might have arrived at their embarkation city two or more days in advance if their schedules could swing it. Doing that also puts what can be a long travel day behind you and allows you to wake refreshed and ready to board the ship. That first day on any ship can be a long one. Get the most out of it by being fully energized before boarding.

Know the route, driving. As a last resort, a long drive to the port, made longer by bad weather is another option. I know of cruise passengers who drove from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Miami last year, 23 hours straight through, when all flights were cancelled without any sign of relief until after their ship would have sailed away. These are hearty people who just would not accept “No cruise for you” in any shape or form.

Gadling’s winter storm air travel survival guide

storm 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

storm survival guide

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

storm survival guide

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

storm survival guide

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

storm survival guide

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

storm survival guide

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

storm survival guide

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

storm survival guide

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.

Winter weather got you stranded at the airport? Use these ten gadgets to kill some time!

winter weather stranded

Being stuck at an airport for any length of time is never an entertaining experience – and when winter weather forces you to spend more than a day inside the terminal building, things get really boring. There are only so many ways you can keep yourself busy with CNN Airport edition and a stale bagel.

Thankfully, technology can once again come to the rescue – we’ve collected ten gadgets and accessories that can help make the experience of being stranded a little less horrible. None of them can magically make flights appear and delays vanish, but every hour you can spend doing something fun is one hour closer to getting the heck out of the airport.Monster Outlets To Go

winter weather stranded

If you have ever spent any time at the airport, you’ll know that there is usually just one outlet for the entire terminal building. Do yourself (and your fellow strandees) a favor, and travel with a compact power strip. The Monster Outlets To Go Laptop is the perfect solution for this – it features a built in surge protector, folding prongs, 2 USB charger ports, and packs away nice and compact.

Product page: Monster Outlets To Go
Price: $29.95

Smartphone

winter weather stranded

This is a pretty broad recommendation, but a smartphone can mean the difference between reading the terminal monitors for two days, or actually having something to do. A decent phone can also help pick alternative flights, book hotels, and look up phone numbers of a cab service.

Price: from free (on contract)

Battery pack

winter weather stranded

That shiny new smartphone won’t be much use when it runs out of power. And since most phones have trouble making it past a day, you will eventually run out of power. You can of course travel with your phone charger, but chances are outlets will be rare, all occupied or worse.

Battery packs come in a variety of sizes – some are powerful enough to charge a laptop, others can only power a small device. Prices start around $15 for an iPhone battery, up to $200 for a powerful laptop pack.

You Bars

winter weather stranded

Not battery operated, and completely without any lights, buttons or touchscreens – You Bars are custom made energy bars and trail mix that are designed by you. Pick all the ingredients you want, and this company will create your very own bar. Prices are obviously higher than store bought bars. but you’ll never run into another lousy bar again (unless you pick ingredients you don’t care for!).

Product page: Youbars.com
Price: from $32/box

Boingo

winter weather stranded

When an airport terminal is full of stranded passengers, chances are your 3G mobile phone speeds will grind to a halt. Thankfully, most decent airports offer Wi-Fi, and one of the most affordable ways to get on that Wi-Fi is with Boingo. With plans starting at $7.95, Boingo Wi-Fi covers thousands of airports, hotels, restaurants and more.

Product page: Boingo
Price: from $7.95/month

Netflix streaming movies

winter weather stranded

Before leaving, make sure to fill your iPod, Windows Phone, Android, Blackberry or other device with a good assortment of entertainment. If you are lucky enough to be stuck at an airport with Wi-Fi, get online and use Netflix to stream movies to your laptop or mobile device. With a massive assortment of decent movies, Netflix has what it takes to get through a whole day at the airport (and I speak from experience here).

Product page: Netflix
Price: from $7.95/month (streaming only)

Headphones + splitters

winter weather stranded

Keeping a pair of cheap headphones in your ears for a day is going to hurt – so consider a decent pair of on-ear headphones, and if needed, carry a splitter so you can share a movie with your travel partner. If the terminal is full of crying kids (or grown ups), you’ll appreciate a pair of noise canceling headphones. If your budget allows for it, we recommend the new Denon AH-NC800.

Product page: Denon AH-NC800
Price: $349.99 (MSRP)

Kid tech

winter weather stranded

If you think it is hard entertaining an adult when stranded at the airport, then you’ve never tried entertaining a toddler. With an attention span of just over 2 minutes, keeping kids entertained on the road is a real challenge – but a challenge that can be conquered with technology.

Sure, in the old days, we had to settle for a coloring book, but unless it beeps, kids are just not interested in it nowadays. The iPod touch is a great option – it serves parents and kids, can be loaded with free and cheap games, and it does movies and videos. For a sturdier option designed for pre-K and K kids, consider the Leapfrog Leapster Explorer.

Product page: Leap Frog Leapster Explorer
Price: $69.99

Lugsac

winter weather stranded

While the rest of the terminal tries to get comfortable on the most uncomfortable seats in the world, you could be resting peacefully with your inflatable pillow and blanket. The Lugsac was picked as one of the best travel products of 2009, and is an innovative blanket/pillow in a single product.

Product page: www.lugtravel.com
Price: $28 (NAPSAC) $30 (SNUZSAC)

Combo laptop charger + USB

winter weather stranded

If you travel with the usual assortment of gadgets, you’ll most likely have a laptop and at least one mobile phone. Instead of dragging along several chargers, consider a single laptop charger with USB charger port.

Product page: Kensington Laptop Chargers
Price: from $49.99

49 of 50 U.S. states have snow

49 of the 50 U.S. states now have snowWith ferocious blizzards pounding the East Coast, and a number of other storms blowing across the western U.S. and plains states, the country now has the presence of snow in 49 of the 50 states. An arctic blast rolled across the country earlier this week, sending temperatures falling in southern states that normally are spared winter’s wraith. Only Florida remains free of snow at the moment.

Despite the fact that snow was found in all 50 states last February, it is a rare occurrence to have so many places in the U.S. have snow on the ground at the same time. According to CNN, meteorologists estimate that approximately 69.4% of the lower U.S. states are currently buried under some amount of snow. Alaska of course has snow all year round and it is not uncommon for Hawaii’s Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea mountains to have snow throughout the winter either.

The news didn’t improve as the week has gone along. A Midwest storm combined with the one that hit Atlanta a few days back, and created the massive blizzard that dumped plenty of the white stuff on the New England states yesterday. Many residents in the Northeast are still digging out from 10+ inches of snow, and travelers have been left stranded throughout the country as well.

Here in Texas, where I live, we’re suppose to hit 60 degrees Fahrenheit by the weekend. But for those of you living in less warm conditions, keep your chin up. We still have several months of winter to go, and we’re probably not through the worst of it yet. Perhaps now would be a good time to take up snowshoeing or skiing?