My advice for travelers re Sandy

Hurricane Sandy at 8 am Monday. Landfall is expected late tonight and into tomorrow. (Screenshot from FlightAware.com)

This is going to be a tough week for business travel, no matter where you are headed.

That’s because the nation’s air travel network is deeply tied to getting people to or from the “Megalopolis” which extends from Washington DC to Boston. And the megalopolis is essentially shut down to air and rail travel today through at least Wednesday.

If you are flying anywhere this week– even if your itinerary does not have you anywhere near the Northeast, your flight could be affected due to the ripple effect of this storm. This means that the flight that you might be catching to fly from San Francisco to Chicago could be using a plane that is normally flying in from New York or Washington. And with Sandy bearing down on those airports and shutting them down…it’s likely that your plane won’t be arriving in San Francisco. You might end up on a different type of aircraft. Your seat assignment could be different. You might have to fly earlier or later than expected.

That is why it’s essential to stay in touch with your airline online (phoning is impossible) to monitor the situation. Other helpful resources are the flight delay maps at FlightStats or FlightAware.

I think the most important thing to remember during storms like this is that if your flight is cancelled, and you decide NOT TO TRAVEL AT ALL– meaning you decline any re-accommodations or waivers offered, and just zap the whole trip, you are entitled to a full refund from the airline. 

And that’s what I suggest you do if you have plans to travel to the Megalopolis this week. Your flight has likely been cancelled, so just don’t go,  give up your seat to someone who may really need it, take your refund and try again next week or next month.

Note: You are only entitled to a refund if you flight is cancelled– not simply delayed.  Also, if you are stranded by this storm, airlines are not required by law to provide you with overnight accommodations. Many will try to help, but remember, there is no federal statute that requires them to pay for hotels during force majeure events like this. 

Based on the severity and duration of this storm, I do not expect the air travel system to recover until this weekend, or early into next week. Currently, it appears that Washington DC, Baltimore and Philadelphia are going to get the brunt of this storm. New York is going to get walloped, too– low lying La Guardia is especially susceptible to damage from a storm surge. Boston is still open this morning and might just get sideswiped.

Luckily, we are not in a peak travel period, so it will be somewhat easier for airlines to re-accommodate stranded travelers on flights that are not sold out. However, airlines have cut back on capacity so much in recent years, that empty seats are few and far between, so it’s going to take a while.

So, sit back, relax and enjoy the fall weather, and don’t try to get to the megalopolis this week if you don’t have to.

Have you been affected by this storm yet? How have you been treated by the airlines? Please leave your storm stories below! 

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