Snowmageddon or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Cancellation

 The winter cancellations that hit the US this past weekend really bring back the memories of last January (Snowmageddon) and my experience, both the high points and the low points.  With the holidays, I have been busy and so not as able to write this long winded post weaving the tips from my experience last year.

I was flying from YYZ to GSO connecting in ORD.  As is my custom, I arrived extra early because of the new mandatory pat-downs to enter the US (This was during the period when all travelers entering the US were getting extra screening because of Mr. Undepants.)  Since I arrived early and had time before I had to subject myself to the extra screening, I went to relax in the Maple Leaf Lounge (Decent food, good drinks, good reading, if only they did not charge for internet now) and I received the wonderful message from UA that my ORD-GSO flight was cancelled, and they changed me from YYZ-ORD Air Canada and ORD-GSO on an explus flight to 2 ERJ-145 flights later that night connecting through IAD.  I knew that was not feasible, so I called and told them to keep me on the Air Canada flight to ORD, since I would have better chances of getting out from ORD than being stuck in YYZ or IAD.  

Why would I not take their recommended option for the chance to get home that night?  I knew for a fact that the IAD-GSO flight was going to get cancelled, even though they had not yet done so.  The ORD-GSO flight was scheduled to leave at 7pm Central, while the IAD-GSO flight did not leave until 9:45pm eastern.  Big enough difference, plus the weather was only going to get worse through the night.  Thus I had to choose where I wanted to be stranded, possibly for the entire weekend.  My options were YYZ (which required reclearing customs both ways, not a fun experience,) IAD (all the way from the city, and in the path of the storm,) or ORD (A city I had never spent any time in, and clear of the weather.)  This was a no brainer.  

And in fact, this leads to another thing: If you are not in your home city, try to get to your connecting point, since you have many more options. If I had stayed in Toronto, the agents would have only given me legal routings from YYZ, which cancels out some of the options because I have to fight inventory on both legs, and also time syncing and a delay on your flight from the hub can quickly turn into a ruined weekend with no hope of finding enjoyment, especially if you have to be somewhere Monday morning.  

In a major weather event, if you are an early cancellation, beware the first available flight.  They initially tried to rebook me on the 6am Saturday morning flight ORD-GSO.  I knew this was a no-go, because if they were cancelling the flight when they had a chance to stay on top of the conditions, they would cancel the flight when the airfield had been left to sit overnight.  By taking this flight, you put yourself at even more risk of being delayed, now that you are a last minute rebooking and they have been filling flights out from the previous cancellations, dealing with people with lower status that were rebooked. Also, I have issues with taking any flight before 10am on the weekend.  So I booked the 2pm, and about 10am, I received the cancellation notice for my rebooked flight, and immediately called UA to get on the 2pm Sunday flight, again refusing the 6am flight.  

One of the strengths of getting stranded at ORD is that the airport has a direct connection to the subway, so you can get wherever you want in the city.  You just need to make sure to plan enough time.  I won't bore you with the details of what I did, though I will advise that if you want to see Second City, reserve your tickets ahead of time and don't expect to be able to walk up and get tickets right before the show. 

Although the cancellation turned a 3 day weekend into a 1 day weekend, I enjoyed myself and really do not view that particular cancellation as a bad thing.  Turning the weather into a mini-vacation helped pass the time and I was still rested for the next week of work

The key to these grand cancellations is to find something to do rather than sit in the hotel room or airport stewing.  Most hub cities have something worth doing (Not counting CVG) so go out and enjoy the city.  Think of it as an extra stop on your trip.  

In Summary

  1. Know the weather to be able to anticipate the cancellations that are coming when your first flight is cancelled
  2. Try to get to a hub airport, you have more rebooking options there.
  3. Do not trust the automatic rebooking.  Look up your own options and keep on top of flights (Expert mode on is great for keeping track of things.)
  4. Make the most of your extended layover


Darren December 29, 2010 at 03:23 pm

3 is spot on, Nick. Like you, I always have alternate routings to the usually less-than-optimal rebooking notification(s).

Nathaniel December 29, 2010 at 09:49 pm

I got struck by this nor'easter but I was impressed on how fast united got me back in the air. (And thanks to the Delta Sky Club at ORD for making a really long United lay over enjoyable.) I was Supposed to Fly out Sunday and arrive on the East coast at close to midnight.. Instead I arrived around 5 PM on Monday, only about 17 hours late.. Not to bad at all.