What to expect from a weather-delayed flight?
January 2, 2018 7:16 AM   Subscribe

I have a ticket for a JetBlue flight from Boston Logan to Washington Reagan early Thursday afternoon. But the weather forecast is calling for about 8-10” of heavy snow in Boston throughout Thursday. I can afford to cancel this trip if it makes sense, and I’d appreciate input from more experienced flyers about what’s likely to happen in this scenario and how I might minimize any financial losses.

The trip is for a music festival. It’s always one of the highlights of my year, and if I can get there by early Friday afternoon, I think it would still make sense for me to go.

On the flip side, if I make the decision to cancel by tomorrow afternoon, I can save myself substantial hotel expenses—more than what’s at stake with the flight.

After my ticketed flight, there are six other JetBlue flights to Reagan that could still get me there in useful time: two later that day that will probably also be affected by the weather, and four the next day (although two are so early I would have to take on extra expenses to make them).

I’m mostly wondering what to expect at the airport if I decide to go ahead with this. The storm is supposed to let up around 3PM, and I’m guessing Boston is used enough to this that they know how to get running again soon after. I know nobody here can say for sure, but do you think my flight is more likely to be delayed past the storm, or canceled outright? I guess what I really want to know is, whether it happens by pure delay or rebooking, how much delay to my arrival time should I be ready to expect?

News reports always make it sound like airports are miserable places to be when this happens, but I can’t tell how much of that is sensationalism. If I go in prepared for a many-hours delay, will it basically be the usual boring trapped experience of being in an airport? Or is the suck unavoidable?

How should I interact with JetBlue throughout this process? Like, are there specific personnel I especially should or should not be talking to? Deals I should or should not be offering/taking?

If you’ve been through this before and have any other tips for dealing with the situation, I’d appreciate those too. Thank you!
posted by brett to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total)
Best answer: will it basically be the usual boring trapped experience of being in an airport?

Yeah. Logan has free Wifi and an always-empty chapel which is great to hang out in. Usually the issue is that other people are really agitated and they can be unpleasant. I've done it, I don't mind it much. If it were me I'd think through some options

- you're close enough that you could take the train to DC which will be less affected by snow
- if you're flexible you might be able to go earlier in the day

How are you getting to the airport? If it's just public transportation you can always leave if a flight is cancelled. I don't have a ton of experience about whether JetBlue is more likely to cancel or postpone but I've found them a LOT more pleasant to deal with than nearly every other airline. Download the app if you can. Sometimes the app has information/details that are ahead of what a gate rep has. I've literally had a gate agent tell me "There's nothing we can do, you missed your flight, it costs a zillion dollars to rebook" while the app let me do it for free.

See if they're offering you options to change your flight (they often do when there's impending weather), think about how flexible you can be. I've found with other airlines that they like to play it close and basically won't let you change/cancel on your end until it's pretty late in the game (and then you worry that you will be out money) so I'd just stay on it and think about how much a little pre-planning can get you on a path that is less likely to be impeded.
posted by jessamyn at 7:52 AM on January 2, 2018 [4 favorites]

I would call JetBlue today or tomorrow and see if they’ll rebook you on a Friday flight now; I’ve had airlines do it for no extra charge when flight cancellations are expected.
posted by songs about trains at 7:53 AM on January 2, 2018 [5 favorites]

When airlines become aware that major weather is expected to impact fights, they might let you cancel or reschedule your flights at no charge. That's the first thing I would personally look in to - that'll give you some idea if the airline is expecting major delays. You should be able to tell when checking your itinerary online or worst case by calling and asking.

The problem with the delays is that everything snowballs into a lot of people stuck trying to get any flight out to pick up connections elsewhere. It sounds like there are other flight options for you in theory, but is there availability on any of them as of now? There's no guarantee that seats will be open for you when it comes time to have to get a new flight, or that those flights won't be further impacted by late crew members, late aircraft, etc. Any delays have ripple effects through the system that can be hard to predict.

I've personally been stuck in Chicago with hundreds of people on standby lists for any flight going west of the Mississippi (and with no flights with available seats for five days). It's not fun and it's stressful to navigate. The good news for you is that you're stuck at home, meaning worst case you can leave the airport and go home. From that point of view I feel like it would reduce the suckiness in that you've got an easy bail out, but it's not going to be fun to stuck in a crowded terminal with long lines to speak to anyone, and not fun to come to terms with missing your vacation. You might also have a hard time getting your luggage back immediately, if you checked any, if you decide to bail.

In this situation I'd personally lean to canceling, especially if the airlines is letting you do it for free (see my first paragraph) - but it does sound disappointing to miss a music festival you've been looking forward to. Maybe there's a way to roll those funds to another activity or vacation that you'd also enjoy.
posted by handful of rain at 7:53 AM on January 2, 2018

Best answer: Could you take an earlier flight on Thursday instead to give yourself a bit more of a cushion? (I haven't checked the weather timing predictions yet, admittedly.)

Whenever I've had flights into/out of Logan affected by storms predicted to be heavy enough to warrant it a couple of days out, JetBlue contacts me ahead of time (via email), and IME in these specific cases, has waived their rebooking fees. I'd also keep checking their website in general; if such an event happens, it's usually front-page news for them. If they don't do that, given your flight is such a short hop, and given the frequency of BOS-DCA flights in general, I'd bet on cancellation rather than delay of your whole flight in order to get people onto the next planes as quickly as possible. If they do cancel your flight, get on the phone *while* you're getting into line at the desk to rebook, and work with whomever you get first.

In general, Logan is very much used to winter weather; if they can get a flight out safely, they will.

Logan Terminal C, where JetBlue goes out of, has gotten better with the renovation; there are at least a few more choices of places to eat and such, and many more places to plug your phone and laptop into. I'd still bring a book, though, and sit away from the TV monitors. (Headphones and/or earplugs will come in handy if you can't get away from the TV.)
posted by Pandora Kouti at 7:54 AM on January 2, 2018

If the weather is as you say ... there's a very high risk that flight will be canceled, because the in-bound flight of its aircraft will never arrive. The smart move is to go earlier, ideally the first flight of the day, because it will arrive Wednesday night and JetBlue will be super eager to get that plane out of dodge.
posted by MattD at 7:56 AM on January 2, 2018 [10 favorites]

Best answer: JetBlue cancels its Boston to DC flights in snow much more than American or other Logan flights, in my experience (I have flown that route approximately biweekly for several years). Boston airport may be up and running by 3pm, but if JetBlue gets off schedule, it gets really off schedule.

That said, a day or two before a predicted snowstorm, they generally let you switch your flight for free to a time outside the snow window. I would probably switch to Friday as soon as they make that call (there should be a notice on their website), in part because if they start cancelling flights, space on later flights will be hard to come by.
posted by alligatorpear at 7:58 AM on January 2, 2018

Best answer: I've had really good luck with rebooking JetBlue flights because of weather- it's definitely worth calling them now, and getting on an earlier flight before the storm instead of during the storm.
posted by larthegreat at 8:10 AM on January 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for the replies so far. I do have a lot of flexibility about how I approach this whole thing: it's just a T ride between home and the airport, I'm not checking bags, and I can be flexible about departure time both ways. I appreciate all the tips about how to leverage that.

Right now the most common advice seems to be to try to leave earlier, and I get the rationale for that, but the forecast calls for snow to start at midnight, and really pick up at 6AM—right when the first flight on Thursday would be leaving. Am I right to think all flights that day are likely to be affected by the weather?
posted by brett at 8:29 AM on January 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

You are not right in that. In-bound flights will be canceled steadily throughout the day and outbound flights will be canceled as the in-bound cancellations mean there's no aircraft to operate the outbound. The earliest flights, with aircraft already at the gate, are far more likely to get out.
posted by MattD at 8:40 AM on January 2, 2018 [6 favorites]

Snow isn't that hard for planes to operate in, the ground operations are what's tough. If it snows hard enough, they might have to run the plows down the runway between every takeoff or landing. And the delays at the de-icing stations build up, too.

6AM is rush hour at any airport so I don't think you'd get out super easy, but it's better to be on the early side of the cascading delays than the late.
posted by hwyengr at 8:54 AM on January 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

In addition to MattD's good point, it's also worth pointing out that, while the Winter Storm Watch begins at 1am for Boston, 1) they are usually conservative about these things such that the snow doesn't start until after (sometimes well after) the watch begins, 2) the National Weather Service forecast currently says "Snow likely, mainly after 4am", and 3) given that this is two days out, the timing is unlikely to be right on. My experience with these storms is that they often start a bit later than is predicted a few days out.

So trying to get on the early flight may be worth it.
posted by Betelgeuse at 8:54 AM on January 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

Personally, if you can swing an earlier departure - like, the night or afternoon before - do that. It was a free reschedule for me a few years back when I escaped a Bradley ice storm prediction to fly out. We ended up staying in a airport hotel for the night as our b&b couldn't, but it was much less stressful.
posted by cobaltnine at 8:58 AM on January 2, 2018

(it's not going to snow nearly that much in Boston on Thursday)
posted by bowmaniac at 11:02 AM on January 2, 2018

I'd call Jet Blue NOW and see if they can reschedule you. If they say no or there are no available flights in your time frame I'd take the train down to DC. It's not at all a bad ride on the Acela though I'm not sure how pricey it is last minute.
posted by lydhre at 12:22 PM on January 2, 2018

Response by poster: Thanks again everyone. JetBlue announced a fee waiver a little bit ago and I just got done rebooking for Friday morning. I think the advice to go earlier is good too, but I just couldn't make that work logistically. I was in a good position to pounce on this thanks to your all's pointers!
posted by brett at 1:57 PM on January 2, 2018 [4 favorites]

This is why even the lowest level status in an airline's frequent flyer program is such a bonus. If I were in your position back when I had nice things like that, I'd definitely not cancel. As a pleb, best to work these things out in advance if possible. The key is to use alternative means to get your flight rebooked as soon as you know it isn't going to happen. Never wait in line at the gate, always find someone else (or call them/use the website if possible).

If you have status, it's super easy since you jump to the top (or nearly) of the standby list and it's incredibly rare even with the massive overbooking that happens during irregular ops that at least one or two people miss the flight.

That said, as long as I've been flexible I have literally never had to wait more than 24 hours for a flight that I could make work no matter how bad the winter weather. The keys are to have no checked luggage, being willing to take seemingly stupid routings, and being willing to use alternate airports. It might be harder on JetBlue since they don't have so many places they can send you.

To pick one example, there was a time before I had status when winter weather in my home town and St Louis both made my original itinerary impossible. However, there was availability on a different itinerary from an airport a couple hours away in normal weather and connecting in Chicago instead, where the weather was improving as the day went on. Oh, and as a bonus, it was all first class since those were literally the only confirmed seats available that day or the next.

The downside, of course, was that I was already at my originating airport, the roads were covered in ice, and the flight was scheduled to leave in three hours. I ended up giving two other stranded travelers rides on a surprisingly smooth drive. Turns out you can do about 60 on fresh snow on a modern highway. Much more than that and it gets dicey enough that the strangers start to get nervous.

Anyway, long story short, the flight was made with half an hour to spare and all was solved by driving and flying several hours in the wrong direction to catch an alternate flight to the destination.

Other times I've changed destinations entirely, like swapping Orlando and Miami to avoid hurricanes. The best part is those last minute rebookings often get you miles credit for a full fare ticket. ;)

Basically, be as kind as possible and as flexible as possible and the people will find some way to make it work. Part of being flexible is no checked bags and traveling alone, though. I've missed out on standby seats on more than one occasion when there weren't two seats available and I was traveling with a companion. You'll note that most of the real nightmare stories you see on the news involve large groups. It's not because families with kids are more sympathetic, it's because airlines have a lot harder time finding six seats on the same flight at the last minute during irregular ops. Even if they manipulate the standby list there are only rarely enough no shows unless it's very early on in the weather disruption.
posted by wierdo at 2:37 PM on January 2, 2018

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