The Basics

When Weather Disrupts Your Trip Mid-Flight

Weather disruptions can be a huge pain when it comes to our travel plans. Who doesn’t dread the notice from the airlines of delays or cancellations to our flights? What happens when the weather disrupts your trip when you are in mid-flight? That can be inconvenient!

When Weather Disrupts Your Trip Mid-Flight

Since much of my flying over the past year has been in Europe and the Middle East, I have been fortunate to not have experience much in the way of weather delays. Coming from upstate NY, however, I am all too familiar with the havoc that weather can bring on trips! So far during my stay in the US, I have been fortunate to skate away from all of that. Last night, the weather caught up with me.

The Trip

I was on my way home from my Greece/Korea trip. I left Seoul at 6PM (local time, 5AM back in Rochester) for Vancouver before heading on to Chicago and finally arriving in Rochester at 11PM the same day. It was perfect – short layovers in each place (which, thanks to Global Entry, I knew would not be a problem). The whole trip was in business class so it would provide a nice level of comfort, which was a good thing since I would have spent 42 hours on planes within 5 1/2 days!

The First Hiccup

Well, it was supposed to go that way. When I arrived in Vancouver, I went to the lounge to check my e-mail and upload a couple of blog posts. The internet was not connecting for me (or anyone else). I asked the rep about it and she shrugged her shoulders and said that is just how it is sometimes! I could not use my phone yet either, so I went to use one of their desktops. I signed into my e-mail to find an alert from TripIt Pro (which is an awesome service!) that my flight to Rochester had been cancelled. I immediately called United to find a different flight since I had a lot of stuff I had to do the next day and needed to get into Rochester. Interestingly enough, I never got word from United about the cancellation! Tip: In case of potential weather delays, check your connecting flights on your own or use a service like TripIt Pro to monitor for you. Do not count on the airlines notifying you in a timely manner.

The agent on the phone was very helpful and tried to get me on a flight into Buffalo instead. Unfortunately, she had a lot of problems with it because it was a US Airways issued award ticket. I now had just moments to board, so she told me to go ahead and she would continue working on it. I ran off to the plane after noting that the cancellation was due to weather in Chicago. This made me worry that the Buffalo flight would also be cancelled (since it was around the same time).

The Next Bump

As we began our flight from Vancouver (which left late), I had a feeling that I would not make the Buffalo flight. Just before I thought we were to begin our descent into Chicago, I hear the captain say that we are beginning our descent into Indianapolis! It turned out that Chicago O’Hare had been shut down and all incoming flights were being diverted.

We landed at Indianapolis and had to sit on the runway for about an hour as we waited for ramp agents to come. As soon as we touched down, I called the United Premier line to check my options. I asked about options out of Indianapolis and they held me on the first flight out of Indy in the morning to arrive in Rochester just before 11AM. At this point, I thought it would be better to have that as an option in case we were not able to get to Chicago that night.

The word came through that we were going to leave again for Chicago so I called again and had them check the early flights from Chicago. One seat had opened on the first flight of the day, so they held me to that and I was all set.

Late Arrival and Crowded Airport

We arrived in Chicago around 12:30AM local time – over 8 hours from when we first stepped on the plane for a 4 hour flight. After disembarking, we headed to the United service center. Tip: If you have alliance status, airline status, or are traveling in first/business, look for the line for premium/elite passengers. In this case, it was for passengers with Premier Access which meant that all of those passengers in premium cabins, with Star Alliance Gold, with United status, those who paid for Premier Access, and those with the United Club card could use that expedited line. It was a lot shorter than the general line but still moved slowly.

Even in the elite line, it took about 30 minutes to get to the counter. In the meantime, I was able to check-in on my phone for the flight the next day but it was showing me having three of the same flight so I wanted to be sure. Also, I wanted to see about hotels/food vouchers. This was my first weather disruption as a Premier 1K, but from what I had read, it is an unmentioned benefit that 1K members did get complimentary hotel rooms during weather disruptions (passengers do not normally receive free rooms but discounted rates in weather conditions). When I finally reached the counter, I was told that, because of conventions, all the hotels were booked as far as one hour away! Since my flight left in 5 hours, I decided to just stay in the airport. I did receive two $7 food vouchers and went on my way.

There were thousands of passengers already sleeping on all available comfortable surfaces, so I was looking for some small hidden area. I was directed by a person one way, which unfortunately led me out of the secure zone. I ended up finding a quiet spot of tile for about 30 minutes to sleep before just trying to relax. Eventually, I made it out of Chicago and got back to Rochester – only 11 hours later than I should have! The worst part was that I had tried not to sleep on the flight from Seoul to Vancouver so I would be able to get to sleep quickly when I arrived home at midnight. Because of the disruption, it meant that I would only sleep for 30 minutes out of 55 hours. At least I am back on track! 🙂

Notes To Help Mid-Trip Disruptions

  • Connect with the airline as soon as a problem is noticed – this is especially important for passengers without elite status. The phone lines will become flooded with passengers who are stranded and you have a better shot of getting helped quickly early on.
  • Again, do not rely on the airline to communicate your flight status quickly – in my case, I never did get a message from United that my last flight had been cancelled. If it had not been for TripIt Pro, I would have not received as much time to get moving as I did. Instead, I would have gotten back to Rochester much later than I actually did.
  • Be very nice to airline reps – remember, they have no control over the weather! Many of the reps I spoke with had been on the job for 6 hours past their normal shifts and were not going to get to go home before their next shift started. They are more tired than you are because they are dealing with people non-stop. Take a moment and thank them for their efforts and they may just try to go that extra mile.
  • Power up – if your flight has any type of in-flight power, use it. You do not know when you may get access to power again so power up your phone/tablet/computer so that you have it to call who you need to and search what you need to. It is also helpful if you are traveling with children so they can have entertainment when you get on the ground.
  • If you have the internet, use it – many domestic flights have inflight wifi now. If your flight has it, it may pay for itself by the ability to work out the flight situation. In fact, if you are simply accessing the airline’s own website, you do not even need to pay for the internet. If there has been a disruption on that airline, you can search for and change flights right their while sitting on the connecting flight! This has saved me many times before. If you are connecting with a different carrier, try using twitter to connect with them. This does not always work as some airlines are not as responsive as others with twitter (on my flight Emirates flight to connect with British Air, I tweeted them to help me since they cancelled my flight and got a response two days later!).
  • If weather is a potential problem, arm yourself – if you know that weather may disrupt your trip, have some options available of other flights or modes of transportation. If you have a diversion to another airport, this can actually help you as it may put you closer to your final destination. If not, it may give you another airport to have a flight from instead. Learn what your options are.
  • Use the lounge when possible – if the airline’s lounge is open and you have access by way of a credit card, elite status with the airline, or elite status with another partner airline, try the lounge agents first for help. They will be dealing with fewer customers and may be in a better, more knowledgeable position to help you with the options. Another option to gain access is to buy a pass. In the case of Delta lounges, even if you do not have a membership, as long as you have a Delta Amex card, you can gain access to the lounge for a $29 fee. This not only gives you access to the helpful agents inside but also gives you a way to shower, get some free food and liquids as well as more comfortable seating areas. If you are stuck for several hours, the $29 is definitely worth it!
  • Don’t stress it – in the end, the airline is going to get you home. In some extreme cases, it may take a couple of days, but the airlines will do what you have contracted them to do – get you to your final destination. Just be patient and try not to get stressed.

What is the longest you have had a disruption? What are your tips to help in times of disruption?

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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.