I planned to visit New York during this week’s Northeastern Snowstorm. Unfortunately, American Airlines cancelled all but a few flights from Chicago O’hare to LaGuardia for the entire day, so I had to rebook myself on an airline that did not panic as much as AA 😦
During rebooking I had a few options, which prompted me to think through and pick a flight that I believe would minimize my hassle. In the situation that bad weather is expected at the time of booking, choosing the right flight may save your day. Consider my situation: I need to rebook a Chicago-New York flight. Chicago has no weather issue, but New York has cancelled many departing and arriving flights due to a snowstorm that affects Northeastern US.
If schedule permits, choose earlier flights
First, the earlier the flight, the less likely it will get cancelled or delayed. Domestic flights usually have short turnaround, usually around 1 hour, and an aircraft serves several flights every day. The evening Chicago-LaGuardia flight may be served by an aircraft coming from the northeastern area. The incoming flight is very likely to get delayed, so the departing flight will be affected even when there is no weather issue in Chicago. On the other hand, early morning flights are oftentimes served by aircrafts arriving the night before. For instance, the 7:30AM flight’s (UA427) aircraft arrives 4:19AM from San Diego (UA240). San Diego is not affected by the winter storm so the incoming flight is unlikely to have any problem. Even if there is one, United will have more than 2 hours to fix it before UA427 is scheduled to depart.
Second, the earlier the flight, the more flexibility you have. If the 7:30AM flight gets cancelled, you have all the following flights during the day as change/stand-by options. If the last flight of the day gets cancelled, you have no option but to travel the next day.
Aircraft Size matters
During bad weather, airlines are less likely to cancel flights operated by mainline and wide-body aircrafts than small regional ones. Larger planes are in general safer and smoother during take-off and landing in bad weather. They also carry more passengers, hence cancelling them means a bigger headache for airlines. Indeed, one day before the snowstorm, United has cancelled flights operated by E7W (ERJ-175 Regional Jet) but left most of those operated by mainline jets intact. During the snowstorm, United cancelled everything but one flight operated by the wide-body 777.
For reference, here is a list of common aircrafts by size:
Regional: All CRJs and ERJs (e.g. CRJ-200, ERJ-145)
Mainline small: MD-80, MD-88, MD-90, 717
Mainline single-aisle: A319, A320, A321, 737, 757
Mainline wide-body: 767, 777, 747, 787, A330, A340, A350
Airport Size Matters too
When an airline serves multiple airports of the same city, the flights to/from the larger ones may less likely get cancelled. Also, those serving the airline’s hub are less likely to get cancelled. Passengers flying into/out of large hubs are mostly transiting, either domestic and internationally. Airlines want to minimize their travel disruptions as their trips are more difficult to fix. For instance, American Airlines operates a once daily Chicago O’hare – New York JFK flight. This flight should be at the lower end of cancellation priority as it is only operated once a day and many travelers are transiting at JFK to Europe-bound flights. Indeed, even though this flight has been cancelled in this inclement weather, it was cancelled only after all these LGA flights had been cancelled.
Nothing can be guaranteed during bad weather. You flight might get cancelled after all if it gets too bad. However, following these tips will increase your likelihood to have a smoother day of travel.