Pack Your Patience – 10 tips for travelling in winter weather


Before I start I just want to re-iterate one more time that the views and opinions on my blog are entirely mine and do not reflect those of my employer.

This winter has thus far been a tough one for travellers.  Many weather related disruptions have caused a lot of travel issues for passengers.  In North America there has been a polar vortex hanging over the continent bringing unusually cold temperatures and massive amounts of snow.  The cold temperatures do not mesh well with air travel.  In the United States over 1600 flights were cancelled for January 7th according to Flight Aware out of Houston as of 1 am Eastern time this morning.  Jet Blue, an American air carrier, stopped their services in Boston and New York last night for the night, this morning WestJet blogged that planes were not landing at Toronto’s Pearson Airport nor were workers able to offload luggage from many flights.  Air Canada was estimating a possibility of travel disruptions at 15 airports today due to weather related issues.

This means everyone travelling over the next few days may be affected even if where you are is having a lovely day.  Here are a few things you can do to ease your stress over the next few days and in any time of travel disruptions:

1-      Don’t travel right before a special event.

If you are going to a wedding or need to be back to work tomorrow and are indispensable give yourself a travel time buffer.  I know life does not always allow for extra time and that you may want to extend your vacation as long as possible if you are spending the money but things happen when travelling.  Even in the best of weather conditions mechanical delays occur, ease your stress by giving yourself time if something happens to disrupt your travel.  Besides if you get home early you can always find things to fill that extra day such as developing pictures from your trip, grocery shopping to fill that empty fridge, and the laundry that somehow seemed to breed while you were away.


2-      Give yourself plenty of time to connect to other flights.

I see it all the time; people are very stressed wondering if they will make their connection flight.  During winter de-icing delays takeoff and can put minor delays on flights departing that evening.  I prefer to travel first thing in the morning as these delays can accumulate later in the day.  Your bags and you may or may not make your next flight if you try and cut it close.  Most airlines have what is called a legal connection time; the amount of time they feel is enough to get you and your luggage on to your connecting flight.  Check with your airline what those times are as they vary based on international and domestic connections.  You will also want to see what the possible risks and penalties are for you to book flights too close together.  Keep in mind that at some airports you may need to change terminals and clear security or customs formalities before you can run to your next gate.  The last person to ask if you are going to make it to your next flight is the flight attendant on your current flight.  They do not have access to your file, a computer, or current status for other flights.  They can make an announcement if their airline permits such an announcement asking other passengers to let those with connections deplane first.  Personally I find these announcements do not really work as sometimes almost an entire plane has a connecting flight they are running to catch; also in this day and age people do not listen to announcements and do not want to wait.  Let’s face it there is quite a bit of selfishness surrounding air travel.  The customer service staff in the airport is aware of tight or “hot” connections are and are working at getting you to where you are going.  It is in the airlines best interest too to have a happy customer and all the employees from baggage handlers to airport staff and flight crews want to see you get to your destination as soon as is safely possible.


3-      Check with your airlines before you leave the house or hotel.

In today’s information age it takes two seconds to check the status of your flight.  Most airlines have phone apps where you can set up alerts for your flights to your email or to receive updates by text message.  In times of weather disruptions the airline’s website will also list travel advisories, as do airport sites.  This is additionally helpful if you are travelling to area where there are medical or civil unrest advisories.  I find that most airlines have advisory policies where they waive or reduce change fees if major disruptions are projected.


4-      Pack accordingly.

Make sure your carry on has all you need in case you get stranded somewhere and that your bag can fit under the seat in front of you if need be.  Winter weather means overhead bins fill up quickly with large winter coats.  Sometimes carry on luggage needs to be put in the cargo hold if there isn’t any room for it in the bins.  Gone are the days of a multitude of closets on planes and they are not usually designed to be stuffed full of luggage for safety reasons.  They have restrictions as to how much weight can safely be carried within them and they often house emergency equipment that cannot be blocked by a suitcase. Closets were replaced by seats to hold more people who all have luggage that needs to be stowed.  Save yourself some trouble and make sure it fits under your seat if by the time you board the overhead lockers are full.  In your carry on be sure to pack your electronics and their charging cords with adapter, medications, money, important documents, a toothbrush, a tube of toothpaste under 100ml in your liquids bag, a hairbrush and if you are really prepared cleansing wipes and change of undergarments and shirt if you have the space.  In extreme weather, as seen last night and today in Toronto, checked bags were unable to be offloaded as the gates were needed immediately to get other passengers off the planes waiting for gates.  Airplanes were stacking up on the tarmac like dominoes and for safety reasons it is better to get people off planes straight away and work on deplaning the luggage at a later time.  You may not get your checked luggage right away so make sure you have what you may need overnight with you.


5-      Bring a book

You have no idea how long you will be in the airport or stuck on a plane and not all airlines are created equally.  Some do not have personal televisions and others have electronics that need to be rented, others have systems that can only be used in the air.  Bring a book to keep you from boredom.  E-readers are great for voracious readers but Canadian aviation laws prohibit their use in planes on the ground.  If you are not at cruising altitude the flight attendants are required to ensure that e-readers are turned off and stowed.  All electronics are prohibited on Canadian carriers for taxi out to take off and cell phones are only permitted after landing.  Please be understanding with crews and co-operate with the laws, they have to enforce the rule it is Transport Canada is who decides them.


6-      Grab a bite to eat.

Frequent travellers know that there are few airlines that serve full meals on domestic and transboarder flights today.  This means that there is little available on planes if lengthy delays occur.  The planes are catered not to what may be needed in the event of possible delays but for what the flight requires.  The galleys, an airplane’s kitchen, are very small and resources are extremely limited there just isn’t room to stow extra pop of food that might be needed if there may be a delay.  The cost associated with this would also be exorbitant.  The food would have to be used or thrown out if perishable, an unbelievable waste, and extra supplies means extra weight which translates to more fuel burned.  So pack a snack if at all possible, most airports have fantastic restaurants where you can get food to go if you are unsure what can pass through security and customs guidelines.


7-      Bring a bottle of water

I never fly without one.  In today’s heightened security at airports you will have to buy it in the airport or bring an empty bottle and fill it up at a water fountain once you have passed through security.  Once the door is closed on the plane the flight attendants are allowed to be out of their seats only to perform safety duties.  In order for drinks service to occur on the ground a multitude of criteria must be met and followed by the crews, some of which include permission from the captain, a wait of a certain length to ensure no one is up during take-off, the plane needs to be stopped and table trays and trollies cannot be used.  Serving beverages on the ground never fails to bring about the next conundrum.


8-      Use the washrooms!!!

Once the door is shut you need to be in your seat no matter how badly you have to use the facilities.  I have said before that using the toilets in the terminal before boarding is ideal.  If you have a small bladder, trust me I can relate, go before the door closes especially if de-icing delays are expected.  After landing everyone has to stay in their seats until the door is re-opened.  Last year in the United States I heard of 3 separate incidents where there were planes that got in to ground accidents with other planes.  Yesterday alone a plane skidded off the icy runway in New York.  There are what crew call critical phases of flight, the most dangerous points, they include taxi, takeoff, landing and any time the plane is under 10 000 feet.  Just because you are back on the ground it does not mean that it is safe to get up and use the washroom.  If long delays are expected the flight attendants and captain will discuss where and when is the safest spot to park the plane and allow the lavatories to be used.


9-      Be patient and kind.

A little of kindness goes a long way on days of extreme weather and the delays it brings.  What prompted me to write today was the stories my colleagues were sharing of how many of them encountered understanding passengers.  I heard some though took the news of cancellations and delays poorly and news channels were reporting police had to be called out to help calm passengers furious with the disruption of their travel plans.  Please remember that the weather is not controlled by the airlines.  They lose money too when the flights do not go.  If airlines controlled the weather it would be blue skies every day.  Delays are caused by many issues including de-icing aircraft, gates are all occupied at an airport, planes late from other cities, crews coming in from other delayed flights, and late connecting passengers to name a few.  These are impacted more when it is an airline’s hub that is affected.  The hub system is the model used by most air carriers today.  They have one or two major airports where they run a majority of their flights out of.  Travellers fly to that airport change planes and head off to their destination.  There are fewer direct and non-stop flights between destinations and more and more connections.  This slows down operations in all cities when a hub is under weather advisory.  Getting upset with the employees will not make your day go any better it will just make one more person frustrated and slow down things further.  Being patient and understanding how things work at airports and airlines in irregular operations (we call them IRROPS) will make someone’s day brighter.  Years later I can still remember those who have been kind and patient with me and the delays.  If you are abusive and violent with staff you may not be flying when the weather clears instead you may be explaining to police your actions.


10-   Safety is paramount to air travel.

De-icing is necessary!  It may delay flights but is required to achieve the proper lift for a plane to take off sometimes the queues are long and there is a need to de-ice more than once it is for your safety.

Have you ever heard of crew timing out?  It happens in times of major delays. Pilots have a maximum duty time that is mandated by laws, they cannot exceed it.  Imagine driving home after working 24 hours without sleep; now imagine flying a plane in that same state of exhaustion.  It would not be safe.  Flight attendants have a maximum duty time their unions have negotiated too.  While it is not mandated by law it is still as important.  These are the people who are going to get you off the plane in an emergency, perform first aid on you if you need it and a fight a fire should it be needed.  I prefer they are properly rested for my safety and yours.

Ground workers marshal planes in to their gates, these massive millions of dollars machines have to be pushed out of the gates and towed so other planes can use gates if the airport is closed to air traffic.  Baggage loading, and maintenance work also is performed outside.  At temperatures well below freezing the outside staff is required to have warming up breaks, ten minutes every hour.  This is to help keep them safe in their often thankless job.  To me it seems though like they do not get breaks not often enough as at -30C exposed skin will freeze in 5 minutes according to the Environment Canada wind-chill warning webpage.  Even Canada Post announced today via CTV news that they start pulling mail carriers off the streets at -30C.  Hats off to those that get the planes safely to where they are going they work hard in conditions I could not stomach.



I know travelling can be difficult and frustrating but perhaps these tips will make it easier to stomach the difficulties.  There have been those on Facebook that have been commenting that we live in Canada and snow and cold weather delays should be better understood when travelling in the winter.  It will take a few days but things will be back to normal before you know it.  If it is any consolation summer is just around the corner as are the delays that thunderstorms bring.