Air travel has been touch and go the past two years amid the COVID pandemic, but experts are seeing demand surge during the 2021 holiday season. Around 2.3 million people in the U.S. flew each day over the Thanksgiving holiday, which is close to 2019 levels, according to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). And experts have already warned that even more people are expected to travel for Christmas later this month. But booking a flight during the winter isn’t always easy. In fact, there’s one mistake experts say you should never make while finalizing your travel plans in colder weather. Read on to find out what you should never do when booking a winter flight.
If you’re flying in the winter, you’re bound to experience some winter weather delays. This is why you should be extra careful with what time you’re booking your flight for during the colder months. “Try to fly as early as you can in the day, as delays and cancellations often rise and affect later flights,” Naveen Dittakavi, founder and CEO of Next Vacay, explains.
Becky Moore, a travel expert and the founder of travel resource site Global Grasshopper, adds that the first flight out in the morning might be your best option during the winter. “When you book the first flight out, you are actually reducing your chances of being delayed,” Moore says. “A lot of the flights get canceled or delayed during the night because of the weather conditions. And by booking the first flight out, you are giving yourself a chance to get out on the runway before the snow or ice storm hits.”
Of course, early flights can and do get delayed sometimes, too. Dan DePodwin, the director of forecast operations at AccuWeather, says the plane for the first flight of the morning usually sits at the gate outside overnight, and if temperatures have fallen below freezing, frost or ice can form on the plane’s wings even if there is no precipitation. According to DePodwin, pilots will check for ice build-up first thing in the morning, because this build-up can cause the wings to lose lift.
“Depending on the conditions, it may be more likely that the first flight in the morning needs to be de-iced before taking off. This critical de-icing process typically takes an extra 10 to 20 minutes, which is not usually enough to cause major issues but can slightly delay flights,” he notes.
Booking a flight in the morning that gets delayed is still better than booking a later one that gets delayed. “The later you book your flight, the less of a chance you will have to find one in the same day, meaning you will have to push your flight to the next day or further. If you book early in the morning but it is canceled, you have a better chance of booking a new flight on the same day,” says Finn Cardiff, a travel expert and founder of Beachfix.
Around 60,000 flights get canceled each year in the U.S. because of bad winter weather, according to Insider. Brett Manders, an international airline pilot and author of Behind the Flight Deck Door, says that while airlines typically try to ramp up specific winter training in advance to avoid delays, it’s difficult to forecast when big winter storms and snowfalls will occur.
“Whenever possible, I book earlier flights to be ahead of as many delays as possible and also have more options later on if my flight is canceled,” DePodwin says.
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Johnathan Smith, a travel expert and founder of CamperGuide, recommends that you avoid booking a connecting flight during the winter. “Getting on a non-stop flight ensures that you’ll keep the delays to a minimum,” he says.
But if your travel plans have to include a connecting flight during the colder months, experts say you should choose wisely. “If you can avoid the frequently hard-hit airports, you can stand a chance of avoiding delays and cancellations,” Smith explains. Nicole LeBlanc, a travel advisor based in Dallas, Texas, and owner of Mon Voyage LLC, suggests connecting in states that are known for their warmer weather, even in the winter.
“If your winter travel route requires a change of plane, try to avoid airports like Detroit, Denver, and Chicago in favor of Sunbelt hubs like Miami, Houston, and Phoenix,” she says, adding that you’ll want to space out your connecting flight as well, so that you “have a cushion of several hours between flights in case your first flight is delayed.”