Travel Tech

10 tips for IT pros who have to travel during the winter

Winter travel can turn a short hop into a long, frustrating journey. Here are some practical ways to get where you're going with fewer problems.

Photo credit: iStockphoto.com/carterdayne

I tend to travel heavily for both business and pleasure. In the last year alone, I visited 17 countries and every continent except for Australia. One thing that has always remained consistent is that traveling in the winter can be difficult. So I thought it might be helpful to share a few pointers for winter travel.

1: Leave extra time in your travel plans

The number one rule of traveling during the winter is to leave some extra time in your plans. The airlines are notorious for delaying or canceling flights when snow or ice is in the forecast.

If you need to be somewhere to do a job, you might consider arranging your flight to get you there a day early. That way, if your original flight is delayed or canceled, you still have a reasonable chance of getting to your destination in time to do the job.

2: Don't assume that the airlines are telling you the truth about your flight status

Once a flight gets canceled, there are usually a limited number of seats on other flights that will get you to your destination without forcing you to wait until the next day. As soon as word gets out that the flight has been canceled, the seats tend to go quickly. So it's important to be proactive and start making arrangements the minute you know that the flight is going to be canceled.

It has been my experience that the airlines often know the flight will be delayed or canceled long before they tell the passengers. You can't trust the flight status that is posted on the boards in the airport. A better way to know whether your flight will be on time is to see whether the plane is at the gate. If it's not, try to find out where it's coming from. Once you know that, you can use a mobile app called FlightAware to check the status of that flight. If the plane is still sitting on the ground in another city, you probably aren't going anywhere.

3: Get a pass to the airline lounge

If it looks like your flight is going to be delayed for several hours, ask for a pass to the airline's lounge. The lounge typically has more comfortable seating than the terminal has, and depending on the airline, it usually has free drinks and snacks.

Some airlines will give you a complimentary lounge pass (if you ask for it) if your flight has been delayed for several hours. Other airlines will require you to pay for a lounge pass. Even so, the price might be worth it if you're going to be stuck in the airport for a long time.

4: Try to avoid connections in cities with the potential for snow

When you're traveling in the winter, it's always best to get a nonstop flight if you can. That way, you don't have to worry about missing a connection if your first flight is delayed, and you don't have to worry about getting stranded if the connection is canceled. Sometimes, however, connections are unavoidable. If you have to take a flight that requires a connection, try to get a connection through a city that is unlikely to have snow or ice. My personal preferences are Miami (American Airlines) and Houston (Continental Airlines). Those who live on the West Coast might do well getting a connection through Los Angeles or Las Vegas.

5: Drive to a nearby city if it means getting a nonstop flight

As I just noted, your odds of making it to your destination go way up if you can arrange for a nonstop flight. But if you can't find a nonstop flight, you might be able to get one out of a nearby city. For example, I live in South Carolina, but I have been known to drive to Atlanta just so that I can get a nonstop flight.

6: Remember that the south is ill-equipped for snow

If you are traveling to the south (in the United States), keep in mind that it's ill-equipped to handle snow. It doesn't snow very often in the deep south, but when it does, even a slight dusting is enough to shut down everything. A couple of years ago, I had a flight out of Atlanta and the airline canceled my flight the day before I was supposed to leave just because someone mentioned that it might snow.

Even if you are able to reach a destination the south during a snowstorm, it is critically important to remember that most southerners have no idea how to drive on ice or snow. Snow accumulation that would be considered trivial in most other parts of the country turn southern freeways into a demolition derby.

I'm not saying that you should avoid the south during the winter. Most of the time, traveling to the south is fine. The lesson here is that if there is snow in the forecast, it is definitely something you should pay attention to.

7: Go ahead and spring for the rental car insurance

Regardless of where you're traveling to, if there is snow on the ground (or in the forecast) it's a good idea to go ahead and get the rental car insurance. I usually advise people not to get rental car insurance because your own car insurance policy will typically cover rental cars. However, if you find yourself having to rent a car in icy conditions, the chances of being involved in an accident go way up (even if that accident is the result of someone else who doesn't know how to drive in the conditions).

Many rental car companies will offer you full coverage for about $30 a day. The advantage to getting this insurance is that if you are involved in an accident, it won't affect the rates on your own auto policy. Furthermore, the post-accident paperwork probably won't be as messy if you are using the rental agency's insurance.

8: Remember to watch for black ice

While I am on the topic of driving in bad weather, I want to point out that black ice can be an issue during the winter. Black ice essentially refers to a frozen roadway that doesn't appear to be frozen. This occurs most often on bridges and overpasses, which can freeze even if the rest of the road is not frozen.

9: Take along a few extra essentials

Winter travel by its very nature tends to be plagued with delays and cancellations. If you have to make a trip during the winter, it can be beneficial to take along some extra essentials in case you're gone longer than you plan to be. For example, many times I've flown to another city to meet with a client and then flown home that same day. Normally, I don't even bother packing a bag (except for my laptop) for these types of trips. But in the winter, you never know when a day trip might turn into a multi-day trip because of airline delays. Therefore, it isn't a bad idea to bring along a change of clothing, a cell phone charger, and a few other essential items in case you're gone for longer than you plan.

10: If you really have to be somewhere, be prepared to make alternate arrangements

If you have an important job to do, and that job involves traveling in the winter, you may need to be ready to make alternate arrangements for getting to your destination. A few years ago, I had to travel to Louisville, KY, to help a client. Unfortunately, Louisville was snowed in and every flight was canceled. Since my client was having an IT emergency, I couldn't just call them and say I wasn't coming. Instead, I got the airline to switch my ticket from Louisville to Nashville (they also threw in a first class upgrade for my troubles). Upon arriving in Nashville, I rented a car and drove the rest of the way to Louisville. It wasn't a fun experience, but I kept my client happy.

Other tips?

What other steps do you take to make winter travel go a bit more smoothly? Have you ever run into serious problems getting around during the winter months?

About

Brien Posey is a seven-time Microsoft MVP. He has written thousands of articles and written or contributed to dozens of books on a variety of IT subjects.

18 comments
iso.irvine
iso.irvine

some enlightening advice in the comments. I live in the French Alps and although our roads are cleared very rapidly and efficiently, it can be prudent to always have cat litter in your boot (I am British), even if you have 4 snow tyres. You might have to use the whole bag of litter, but it can help you out of a sticky situation in winter. Or help somebody else less prepared than you.

heyyoucraig
heyyoucraig

My wife recently had a 5 hour layover while travelling and she made use of the lounge. She really appreciated that the announcements for each and every flight were not broadcast into the lounge so she was not forced to listen to: The pre-boarding announcement The general boarding announcement The reminder that if you do not get on the plane your bag will be off loaded The resulting page looking for the traveler who fell asleep in the "quiet" corner of the airport. The final boarding announcement Etc Etc Etc. She also did not have to keep checking the departure screens for updates as the lounge employee took down her travel information and came and told her when it was time to go. The lounge is worth every penny you pay and if you can get in for free, all the better. Happy flying

JohnOfStony
JohnOfStony

The best advice I can give is to get a job within walking distance of your home or move house to within walking distance of your work! Yes, I know it's not exactly practical advice but I really appreciate working only 1.5 miles from home. In bad weather it takes me 40 minutes to walk but it's worth it to avoid getting either stuck in snow or being involved in an accident. Black ice is definitely nasty; the worst car accident I have had was after hitting black ice and susbsequently hitting a lamp post head on. It was before the compulsory seatbelt law came in in Britain but I was wearing mine and there's no doubt it saved my life, so my serious advice about winter driving is ALWAYS WEAR YOUR SEATBELT - whether it's legally compulsory or not.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

It's basic physics; doesn't matter if you have front wheel drive or rear wheel drive, if your car loses grip, the pair of wheel with the poorer traction will be heading forwards, and if that's the rear axle pair, you're headed for a spin. Better traction on the rear axle tires is like the feathers on an arrow; keeps the whole thing stable. So it's actually better to have an older pair at the front than having four brand new ones or four diligently rotated tires. If you put the feathers at the front of the arrow ... not so good.

KGS Consulting
KGS Consulting

If renting a car, check to see if a snow brush/ice scraper is in the car - before you leave the lot. Just because you may not need it when you pick the car up, doesn't mean you won't need it before you return the car. A pair of rubber overshoes/galoshes can be handy. They don't take up too much space in a briefcase or big coat pocket and can be real handy in keeping your feet dry (and warm). Tip #8 is a biggie if you're traveling to the Pacific NW {WA & OR}. Don't assume public transportation (buses & trains) will be running on-time. Just as with airlines, these can be affected by winter storms. Give yourself extra time if your using one of these to connect from the airport to downtown.

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

Air is not always the fastest way to travel! For shorter distances, check trains, buses and even private limo services. When you factor in airport delays, missed connections, lost baggage and the fact that the limo provides door-to-door service - you might be surprised to find that a charter trip is shorter and costs less than an airplane flight, especially if several people are travelling. If your flight is canceled on the "final destination hop", look in to renting a car one-way. There are probably several others in the same situation, and you may be able to split the cost. (I'm from Binghamton, NY, and the Philly-Bingo flight is frequently canceled. It's a 3-hour drive, which is less than the wait for the next flight - which may be canceled too.)

njwjt684
njwjt684

Really? A demolition derby? What kind of asinine remark is that? "most southerners have no idea how to drive on ice or snow". I'm thinking with caution unless we see your a$$ and then aim!

Economix
Economix

If I have to check a bag for a longer visit, I tend to pack a single change of clothes in my carry on in the event my checked bag is held hostage overnight due to a major delay. This has paid dividends on more than one occasion.

MrBrightwork
MrBrightwork

Swap out snow and ice, and replace with thunderstorms and flooding, and these are travel rules for July and August, too.

oggster
oggster

Sorry being really picky now, Australia is not a continent. The continents are: Asia Africa North America South America Europe Australiasia Antarctica

Alpha_Dog
Alpha_Dog

TSA is generally easier to deal with at smaller airports. When I have to fly, I fly out of Colorado Springs and catch a small plane to Denver instead of driving to Denver. I feel the extra money (net $50) is well worth the lesser headaches and lines. Bear in mind some electronics are temperature sensitive. Have a look at the storage and operating temps in the manual before tossing them in the trunk. If a piece of equipment is very cold, when you bring it in to a warm and potentially humid place, if possible orient it in such a way that the PC board is vertical to prevent condensation from pooling and give the gear as much time as possible to equalize the internal temps before turning it on. Travel with a winter kit. Here in Colorado it was 62 and sunny yesterday. This morning it is 20F and snowing with winds gusting to 40MPH and poor visibility. Our trucks are equipped with chains, tools, winter coats, hats, and gloves in all months that end in "ber" (Brrr?)

TBone2k
TBone2k

Not that rental companies put proper winter tires on their cars... Actually, more up to date studies by tirerack show that only putting snows on one axle only makes things worse on FWD. http://www.tirerack.com/videos/index.jsp?video=92&affiliate=HJ7 As for RWD, four snows is still the better choice, since stopping and steering is more important and comes from the front tires.

JohnOfStony
JohnOfStony

Excellent advice. I have the better tyres on the front because my car is front wheel drive and braking puts more weight on the front but I do think you have a good point there! I'll have to swap mine round.

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

She's right - but she doesn't mention that northerners are much the same for the first snow storm or two. The difference in the south is that it goes away after a couple of days, and probably won't be back until next year. Yankees have to learn to deal with it for several months. Driving on snow is a lot like dirt-trackin', once you get used to it...

JohnOfStony
JohnOfStony

I didn't know North and South America were separate continents. And if I can be picky too, it's Australasia, not Australiasia ;)

Soapy Buoy
Soapy Buoy

Australia is a continent that is also referred to as Australasia or Oceania...

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

:D Don't know how things are over there, but we see the coldest and snowiest times after it starts getting lighter. January is always colder than December, and often February is the coldest of winter.

Alpha_Dog
Alpha_Dog

The only thing we can count on here in Colorado is that the weather is menopausal in the best of times. We have seen 75F January days and the worst snow we have had recently was at the end of April a couple of years back. ***Generally*** (read caveat above) January and February are a bit colder that November and December. I believe it is the effect of dampening mass on a thermal cycle... :)

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