The Brancatelli File By Joe Brancatelli
How to Fly Smarter in Winter Weather
December 8, 1994 -- The bad news about winter travel is inevitable: Snow and ice storms will cause long flight delays and maddening flight cancellations.

But there is good news: Smart planning and a careful choice of flights can substantially reduce your frustration level and minimize the chance of cancellations. Here's how to do it.

Always choose a nonstop Even if a nonstop flight to your destination costs a few dollars more or operates at a less convenient time, it is the surest bet in winter. It's a matter of odds: the more stops your flight makes, or the more flight connections you must make, the greater the chance of inclement weather interfering with your trip.

And don't get tangled in airline jargon. A "direct" flight is not a nonstop. Direct flights make one or more stops en route to your destination. A "nonstop" flight is exactly what it means: no stops or plane changes between your departure point and your destination. A "connecting" flight means that you must change planes en route to your destination.

Select your airport carefully If you must book a direct or connecting flight, choose your itinerary carefully. Government figures show an itinerary that includes a stop at hubs in Chicago or Pittsburgh has a greater chance of being disrupted than an itinerary routed via Detroit or Atlanta.

Generally speaking, the further south your plane stops or you change planes, the smaller the chance of delay. But note an anomaly: The major hub airport with the best winter performance is Minneapolis/St. Paul. Flights there operate with substantially more efficiency than at the airports in Atlanta, Dallas/Ft. Worth or St. Louis.

Know your plane's pedigree Even if you book a nonstop, and even if you are departing from an airport where the weather is good, your plane may be arriving from airport where conditions are bad.

One example: American Airlines Flight 673, which flies nonstop to Miami from Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina. However, Flight 673 actually begins in Newburgh, New York; if there's inclement weather in Newburgh, chances are Flight 673 will be delayed--or may never arrive--at Raleigh.

To avoid being frustrated by bad weather elsewhere, ask your travel agent or airline reservation clerk about your plane's point of origin. Whenever possible, avoid booking flights if the plane starts its journey at a bad-weather city.

Fly early in the day During winter months, never book the last--or even the next-to-last--flight of the day. If those flights are cancelled, you'll have no options. Instead, book the earliest flight available. If bad weather cancels that flight, the airline can book you on a later one.

Prepare for the worst No matter how carefully you plan, winter weather may catch up with you. So always carry the airline's toll-free reservations number with you.

If your flight is cancelled or severely delayed, don't follow the crowd of disgruntled travelers to the airline's ticket counter. Instead, go directly to the nearest telephone and call the airline's reservation center. You're guaranteed to get faster service than if you wait on line at the ticket counter.

If your airline ticket is lost or stolen, prepare for an unpleasant round of paperwork and a certain amount of expense. But you may be able to minimize the inconvenience and cost if you have taken the precaution of making a photocopy of the ticket or, at least, writing down the ticket number.

If you produce a copy of the ticket or know its number, the airline will ask you to fill out a lost-ticket report. Depending on the type of discount fare you originally purchased and the airline's policy, you may receive a replacement ticket and only be charged a small service fee (about $50-$75). Some airlines, however, may also require you to pay the difference between the price of your lost ticket and the current prevailing fare. And be warned: if someone else uses your old ticket in the future, you will be charged for it.

If you don't have a copy of the ticket or its number, the airline probably won't let you fly until you're purchased a new ticket at the current fare. Worse still, the airline won't process your refund request for your old ticket for about six months. And if the ticket has been used by someone else during that period, you won't be reimbursed.

This column originally appeared in Travel Holiday magazine.

This column is Copyright 1994-2017 by Joe Brancatelli. is Copyright 2017 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. 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.