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Winter weather is making Thanksgiving travel a nightmare already


(Washington Post illustration; iStock)

Even before the holidays arrive, travelers have been through the wringer: taking vacation time, booking tickets that won’t empty their bank accounts, mentally preparing for swarmed airports and backed-up roads.

Now nature is delivering the final blow, in the form of this prediction from the National Weather Service: “A very active weather pattern will dominate the Thanksgiving week travel period, leading to potential travel impacts across large portions of the Central and Western U.S.”

Already, more than 1,000 people were forced to spend Monday night at Denver International Airport after several inches of snow fell, the Denver Post reported. By midday Tuesday, 478 flights to and from the airport had been canceled, though officials said many airlines would resume operations by early afternoon. Airlines were waiving fees for passengers who were supposed to fly through Denver on Tuesday and needed to change their plans.

Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is in a similar predicament, with airlines such as American, Delta and Southwest issuing waivers for anyone scheduled to fly Wednesday. Snow is expected to start falling in the Twin Cities region on Tuesday night, according to the National Weather Service, which warned that travel “could be very difficult to impossible.”

In parts of Northern California, meanwhile, the National Weather Service is strongly discouraging travel through Thursday afternoon, because of a storm that will pack high winds, heavy snow in the mountains and coastal flooding. The same system is being blamed for a flash-flooding threat from San Diego to Los Angeles.

While the Northeast is expected to fare better over Thanksgiving, New York City faces potential effects. Strong winds, with gusts up to 40 mph, are possible, the weather service says, which could keep balloons on the ground for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

For anyone not grounded over the next few days — the trade group Airlines for America expects 31.6 million passengers worldwide to travel on U.S. carriers between Nov. 22 and Dec. 3 — experts say there are tips that could ease the hassles.

One tip, from Tracy Stewart, content editor at travel deal site Airfarewatchdog.com, is to be early.

“Dragging yourself out of bed at 4:30 a.m. to stand in line at the airport is a little bit of a nightmare, but you’re more likely to avoid delays when traveling on the first flights of the day,” Stewart said in an email. And for those with flights scheduled later on a busy travel day, such as Tuesday, he advised that arriving much earlier than usual could allow a traveler to grab a spot on an earlier flight and avoid issues later in the day.

Travelers might also have to get creative, whether that’s asking to be rerouted through a different connecting city (preferably one where snow is rare) or opting for a different airport altogether.

“If flights aren’t budging at JFK, take the Amtrak to Washington or vice versa,” Stewart said.

Then there’s resignation: For travelers who can’t leave the airport, a one-day lounge pass could help you pass the time in a slightly less frenzied way — and provide rebooking help away from the crowds.

Many credit cards offer some compensation for weather delays, canceled flights and costs such as hotels or missed reservations, Stewart said. And if the trip doesn’t happen at all because of a cancellation, or because it’s so delayed that going no longer makes sense, passengers can ask for a full refund.

Read more:

Strong winds could ground balloons at Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

How to get through the airport in one piece during Thanksgiving

When to get on the road for Thanksgiving, according to Google Maps data

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