Holiday Travelers Brace for Inclement Weather: What You Need to Know

As millions of Americans prepare to embark on their holiday travels, inclement weather threatens to disrupt plans. Here’s what you need to know to navigate the potential travel headaches.

The holiday season is in full swing, and with it comes the hustle and bustle of travel. Around 115.2 million Americans are preparing to embark on their Christmas and New Year’s journeys, but the threat of inclement weather looms overhead. Last year’s Southwest Airlines meltdown, which resulted in 17,000 flight cancellations and countless stranded passengers, serves as a stark reminder of the potential chaos that can ensue. As storms sweep across parts of the United States, travelers are bracing for potential disruptions. In this article, we will explore the current weather conditions, airline policies, road conditions, and gas prices to help holiday travelers navigate the challenges that lie ahead.

Flight Cancellations and Delays

As of 5:50 p.m. ET, there have been 76 U.S. flight cancellations and 3,762 delays, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware. United Airlines leads the pack with eight cancellations, followed by Delta with two and JetBlue with one. While cancellations are relatively low at the moment, delays may still pose a challenge for travelers.

What You’re Owed if Your Flight is Canceled or Delayed

The Department of Transportation provides a cancellation and delay dashboard that outlines what major U.S. airlines will do for passengers in the event of disruptions. While policies around delays vary by carrier, the general rule of thumb for cancellations is that passengers are entitled to a full refund, even if they purchased a nonrefundable ticket. However, if alternative flights are offered, passengers can choose to travel on those flights instead. It is important for travelers to stay updated with their airline’s announcements, as carriers often issue waivers that provide more flexibility to adjust travel plans in advance without additional fees or fare differences.

Flight Delay Entitlements

U.S. airlines are required to provide refunds to passengers if their flights are canceled, but the rules around delays can be murkier. There is no official requirement for passengers to receive a refund or reimbursement due to flight delays. Airlines typically prefer to automatically rebook passengers on the next available flight, but travelers are not obligated to accept this option. It is important to note that a refund may not be instant and may not cover the cost of a new last-minute ticket, unless the original ticket was expensive. In many cases, taking the next available flight may be the most cost-effective option when faced with last-minute disruptions.

Road Conditions and Traffic

While flight cancellations and delays are a concern, road travel during the holiday season can also be challenging. The Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration provides information on road closures, which can be accessed through navigation apps such as Google Maps, Apple Maps, or Waze. The busiest travel day before Christmas is expected to be December 23, between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. After Christmas, heavy traffic is forecasted for December 27, 28, and 29, between 1 p.m. and 8 p.m. On December 30, the worst traffic is expected between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. To avoid congestion, travelers with flexibility in their plans should consider traveling on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, or New Year’s Day.

Gas Prices

As travelers hit the road, gas prices are a factor to consider. The national average for gas prices per gallon is $3.11, with Hawaii experiencing the highest prices at an average of $4.66 per gallon and Oklahoma boasting the lowest at $2.61 per gallon. It’s essential for drivers to budget accordingly and plan for potential fluctuations in gas prices during their journeys.

Conclusion: As holiday travelers gear up for their Christmas and New Year’s adventures, inclement weather threatens to disrupt their plans. While flight cancellations and delays are relatively low at the moment, road travel may be impacted by heavy traffic. It is crucial for travelers to stay informed about their airline’s policies, monitor weather conditions, and plan their journeys accordingly. By staying prepared and flexible, holiday travelers can navigate the challenges that come with the holiday season and reach their destinations safely and smoothly.

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