It's been a tough week to be traveling around the United States. Arctic cold, heavy snow and logistical snafus have stranded countless travelers across the country this week. Were you among them?
Winter travel always means elevated risk. Icy roads make driving treacherous, but it's the cold that poses the greatest danger when motorists and their passengers are get stranded outside. Flying means less risk from immediate harm, but no one wants to get stranded hundreds or thousands of miles from home, with no way to return... except for renting an expensive car and driving on those icy roads.
Not only did the recent arctic storm hit the United States right as millions of people were heading out for Christmas visits to family and popular vacation destinations, including Florida's Walt Disney World, the initial round of weather-related delays triggered a cascade of logistical problems for some airlines.
Southwest Airlines canceled more than 70 percent of its flights yesterday, and today announced what amounts to a hard reset of its system, as it has canceled all flights this week in many markets so that the company can reposition aircraft and crews. That's left Southwest passengers caught away from home to endure a nightmare of trying to make alternate plans to return. And those who were yet to fly out of their home airport now have their holiday vacation plans ruined.
Southwest's point-to-point cross-country routing system leaves the airline's entire network vulnerable to inclement weather anywhere in the nation, unlike with the multiple-hub-and-spoke systems used by Delta, United, and American, which can reroute crews and planes more effectively. Still, United's system took a hit when weather restricted flights at its Chicago and Denver hubs, while Delta took a smaller hit from the weather slowing its Minneapolis hub. American - with its major hubs in Texas, North Carolina, and California - appears to have done the best of U.S. airlines this week.
But Southwest's bigger problem came from its antiquated personnel system, which made it difficult for the company to reassign crews after weather-related cancelations, forcing even more flights to cancel.
This week provides a reminder that travel insurance that covers weather disruptions can be a good investment during the winter. And that budget airlines often have less resilience when things go wrong, so booking with a more expensive airline can in itself provide a form of insurance. But the actual insurance plan is usually your best bet.
If you are among those affected by this week's airline cancelations and delays, you can get information on what you are - or are not - entitled to from your airline, from the US Department of Transportation's Airline Customer Service Dashboard.
And if you would like to share your story from this week, please feel free to do so in the comments below.
Good luck and best wishes to everyone trying to navigate travel this holiday season.
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