The blizzard cometh: How to cope with flight cancellations

With heavy snow expected in the Washington, D.C. area, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York City, flight cancellations are likely. How to cope with Snowmaggedon 2016.  

(Clay Jackson/The Advocate-Messenger via AP)
Kirah Jones carries a water inflatable Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016, behind Danville High School in Danville, Ky. Snow and drizzle began falling early Wednesday across much of Kentucky and Tennessee leading school districts and some universities to cancel classes and officials to warn motorists to drive carefully.

As winter storm Jonas bears down on the East Coast Thursday, likely bringing blizzard conditions and high winds to Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and much of the New York City metro area, travelers could face flight cancellations, delays and gridlocked roads over the weekend.

With more than 73 million people – or about one in four Americans – living in an area likely to be affected by the storm in some way, meteorologists, state officials, and travel experts are asking people intending to travel over the weekend to consider changing their plans.

About 12 to 16 inches of snow are expected between Friday night and Sunday morning around the Interstate 95 corridor, which includes the D.C. area and the New York City area, the National Weather Service said in a statement on Wednesday. As much as a foot of snow is possible in Philadelphia’s northern suburbs.

In some parts of the country, the warnings are severe, with the weather service noting that in the northern mid-Atlantic region – including D.C., Baltimore, and Philadelphia – heavy “possibly crippling” snow is expected, making travel limited or impossible.

On Wednesday, drivers in the D.C. area spent hours in icy gridlock conditions, though roads were clear by Thursday morning, the Associated Press reports.

In the event that flights are cancelled or delayed, experts urge travelers to closely monitor airline or train websites or call airlines directly to double-check that a flight is still going ahead as scheduled before leaving for the airport.

“If the forecast holds, Friday, Saturday and Sunday are almost certain to result in massive cancellations,” Ben Abramson, travel editor for USA Today told WTOP. “If you’re holding tickets for those days, contact your airline immediately to change your plans.”

A number of airlines, including American, Delta, Southwest and JetBlue, are already issuing travel waivers in the expectation that the weather may snag many Americans’ travel plans. The waivers allow passengers to change flights without paying fees, reports WTOP.

To track what flights are cancelled, Flightaware has live updates. 

Another option for travelers concerned about the possibility of being stranded at the airport if they can’t get on a flight is to book a hotel room, an option airlines will sometimes offer for free to travelers during heavy delays.

Flyers are also granted particular rights by the US Department of Transportation, including that a plane cannot leave passengers sitting on the tarmac for more than three hours on domestic flights. In the event that they are bumped from a flight, airlines must provide passengers with twice the price of their ticket (up to $800) if they are bumped from a flight and delayed for two hours or less, or up to $1,300 for a longer delay.

If you're in the East Coast and intending to drive a large distance over the weekend, consider packing emergency supplies in the event that cars pile up icy roads, including an ice scraper, blankets, an extra jacket, socks, water, and non-perishable snacks.

For train-bound passengers, travel may be more reliable than flying, but Amtrak has been known to cancel service in parts of its busy Northeast Corridor.

But weather forecasts are just that, Rich Otto, a meteorologist with the weather service’s weather prediction center, told the AP.

“There's a lot of details that are yet to be seen," Mr. Otto said. “Subtle changes can make a big difference. We've seen that in storms in the past.”

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