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Winter deals another blow to travelers

By Katia Hetter, CNN
updated 5:10 PM EST, Mon March 3, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • This latest winter storm has hit Washington and Philly hardest
  • Airlines have canceled many more flights this year than last year
  • Prepared travelers have less chance of getting stuck at the airport

(CNN) -- What a wretched start to the travel week.

Winter storms had already forced the cancellation of more than 2,800 U.S. flights by Monday afternoon, according to FlightAware.com, a flight tracking service.

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in D.C. had canceled over 80% of its departing flights by Monday at 5 p.m., and Philadelphia International Airport had canceled about a third of its schedule.

That's on top of nearly 2,000 cancellations on Sunday.

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"Heavy snow is moving into the D.C. area, and that'll delay most of the flights in and out of Reagan and Dulles," CNN meteorologist Sean Morris said. "A lot of flights were canceled pre-emptively, so we don't have a lot of people stranded in the airports. It's just everyone trying to get in and out of D.C. today that'll have to postpone their travel plans."

But there is good news. "The storm did move a little farther south than was forecast over the weekend, so New York was spared the brunt of the snow, and Philly won't see as much as originally forecast," Morris said. "We're only looking at 3 to 6 inches of snow when all is said and done in the Philly area at the end of the day. We're only expecting a few flurries in New York today."

And the storm should clear out pretty quickly. "This storm will be over and done with before you know it," Morris said. "The snow should be tapering off by sunset, and that'll give crews time to clear the runways and get flights moving again. Everything should be back up and running normally by (Tuesday) morning."

Although occasional bad winter weather isn't anything new for the nation's airlines, the relentless pounding off snow and ice is having a big impact.

United Airlines had to cancel 22,500 flights in the past two months, four times as many flights as the first two months of last year, the airline reported Thursday. In January, JetBlue Airways said the company's profits would be hurt by cancellations forced by the winter weather.

With so many cancellations and the possibility of more severe weather affecting your travel, consider taking these measures to ease the pain of winter travel.

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Rebook your flight for free. Airlines don't want you stranded at the airport, so don't wait for the bad weather to hit to change your itinerary without paying a change fee. They will often post weather policies on their websites.

Act quickly. Rebook your itinerary as soon as possible. Other passengers are snapping up open seats as you wonder whether you should make the call. If you didn't provide your cell phone or e-mail address when you purchased the ticket, go online and add it.

Check your flight, no matter where you're going. You might live in a sunny place and be traveling to a sunny place, but your aircraft and crew might be coming from Chicago. Don't assume you won't be affected by the storms.

Charge your devices. Charge up before you head out, and keep a charger and a power pack or a few battery chargers for your portable electronic devices handy, just in case you do get stuck. You can probably reschedule your flight on your iPad or smartphone while you're waiting in line to rebook.

Be nice. Ticket agents get yelled at all day, even though they didn't create the storm, fly the airplanes or position the crew. If they have to choose between the customer yelling at them and the nice person for the one seat left on the next plane, who do you think they'll choose?

Don't drive into a storm. Just because you're not flying doesn't mean the weather won't affect you. Monitor your local and regional forecasts, and don't drive if your local officials and meteorologists advise staying home.

AAA advises motorists to check tire pressure and make sure car batteries, cooling systems and antifreeze levels are in order. Keep gas tanks close to full, the automobile association advises, so that you'll be able to run the engine for heat in case you get stranded.

AAA suggests keeping the following items in your car: a shovel and a bag of sand, a snow brush and ice scraper, jumper cables, a spare tire, windshield wiper fluid, a cell phone and car charger and blankets, gloves, hats and food, water and essential medication.

If you fly a lot for work, have your travel plans been affected by this year's storms? Please share your experiences in the comments section below.

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