By Joe Brancatelli
December 2, 2007 -- The pre-winter storm that socked the Midwest on Saturday was bad enough: At least 500 flights were cancelled at the hubs in Chicago/O'Hare, Chicago/Midway, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Detroit/Metro and Milwaukee; two United flights skidded off runways; and there were long delays and missed connections across the nation.

But guess what? It's getting worse. The storm that whacked the Midwest has moved east today and there are already long delays at airports there. Flying tonight is going to be very difficult as the airlines scramble to re-position planes, match available crew with available aircraft and reaccommodate travelers.

And tomorrow will be even worse than that: Near-blizzard conditions are expected to cripple travel in New England and a brutal rain/snow/wind "event" is predicted for the Pacific Northwest.

Bottom line: Plan ahead and think tactically. Don't head for an airport unless you've checked to see that your flight will actually operate. And that includes you folks in the Sunbelt. And do the smart thing: Don't just ask if your flight is still scheduled--ask your airline where the equipment is. If they can't tell you where the plane is and when it will arrive at your departure airport, be wary.

Also, if you're traveling from a city where the weather is bad, leave extra time just to get to the airport. Airport-access highways in many cities are in bad shape; mass-transit options are experiencing delays, too.

Check regularly with the Weather Channel or Weather Underground for weather updates. The FAA Flight Delay Map may also be helpful. Needless to say, cross-check all of your information with FlightStats.com, too.

One final tip: Almost all of the all-news radio stations around the country now stream live programming on the Web. Check with the local station for detailed weather, traffic and airport conditions. Local, on-the-ground intelligence is extremely useful. (To find a station, Google the city name and the term "all-news radio.")

And here's the winter-travel warning I posted as the lead item in Thursday's Tactical Traveler. (Admit it, you thought I was being a little paranoid when you read this on Friday morning, didn't you?)

November 29: It's Winter-Travel Strategy Time Again
Winter-like weather and early snowfalls have already caused delays and cancellations around the nation this month. The adverse conditions are a chilling reminder that business travelers should have already revived their winter-travel regimen. Among the standard procedures: Book early-morning flights because they are the least frequently delayed and give you maximum flexibility to rebook during the day. Have a list of alternate routings to your destinations; it will speed the rebooking process in case of cancellations or delays. Pack your carry-on bag with healthy snacks and bottled water; these will help you resist the temptations of the high-fat fast-food joints at the airport. Carry extra work, additional reading and entertainment material to pass the time during delays. And have a back-up reservation at an airport hotel on bad-weather days. Then you won't need to scramble for a room at the last moment if you're stranded at the airport overnight.
ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.

THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.

This column is Copyright 2007 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2007 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.