Will El Niño affect my flight?

By | November 11, 2023


Prepare for a harsh winter, fellow travelers.

“Prepare for the worst,” warned aviation expert David Doughty. “You could experience ice storms, blizzards and other dangerous weather conditions.”

These won’t be ordinary storms either. Meteorologists say they will be fueled by climate change and El Niño. Last month, the National Weather Service issued an El Niño warningpredicting unusual warming of surface waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean.

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Will El Niño affect your next trip?

Travelers like Nikita Sherbina are ready.

“I took precautions with my winter travel plans,” said Sherbina, who runs an enterprise software company in Seattle. “I have also booked refundable or flexible tickets for my trip, and I am closely monitoring the weather forecast to adjust travel dates if necessary.”

Is Sherbina overreacting? No. Crazy weather could ruin your winter vacation, and meteorologists expect erratic conditions to continue into early spring. But there is a way to weather-proof your next trip, and now is the time to do it. I am, but my solution is a bit against the grain. I’ll tell you more in a moment.

So what happens when the weather disrupts your trip? According to an internal survey of 1,400 TripIt users, 15% were affected by extreme weather this summer, but that figure is expected to rise as El Niño weather patterns form.

“Unpredictable weather could spell trouble for travelers this winter,” said Jen Moyse, vice president of product at TripIt.

Many of us could probably be stuck in traffic, waiting at the airport, or stuck in a snowstorm, unable to get home. But which regions of the country will be most affected?

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Why this winter could be difficult for travelers

Traveling in winter is difficult enough, with snowstorms, rain and flooding always possible. But El Niño has the potential to push things even higher. El Niño disrupts normal weather patterns and can trigger intense storms.

What does this mean for domestic travelers? Most of the action will be in the Southeast, which will be wet and stormy, according to Ray Schmitt, president of the weather analysis company. Salient Predictions.

“The East Coast, in general, should be pretty wet, but not too snowy,” he predicts.

Paul Pastelok, senior long-range forecaster and senior meteorologist at AccuWeathersaid the Pacific Northwest could see active El Niño-fueled storms later this year, with more “random” weather by 2024. For late November and December, it sees more storms and Precipitation across California extends into the central Rockies.

“El Niño will be strong and could be a dominant factor in the forecast,” he said.

Translation: Remember the winter storms in January that caused thousands of flights to be canceled? You might see a few more early next year. They will be larger than last year’s storms and will bring more rain and snow.

Jeff Rolander, vice president of claims at Faye travel insurancesaid the extreme weather is part of a larger trend, which some experts have attributed to climate change.

“The baseline level of normal has changed significantly,” he told me. “Ten years ago, there were a few big hurricanes per season. Today, storms are on the horizon quite frequently, and it’s a question of severity, not whether they will hit.”

Bottom line: The past few years have already been busy when it comes to extreme weather when it comes to travel. And it’s about to get busier.

Flexibility and awareness are important

Experts say El Niño could ruin any trip in late 2023 and early 2024, including yours.

“You need to take this into account when booking a flight to a location in the northern hemisphere that is prone to inclement weather,” said Doughty, an airline CEO. aircraft charter company.

Airlines use what’s called a hub-and-spoke system, which means if you’re flying somewhere, you might connect in Atlanta, Chicago, or Dallas. So even if you’re heading to a location that’s not prone to extreme weather, you could make a stopover there and be subject to El Niño weather.

If you are driving, you must ensure that your vehicle is ready for winter well before the first winter storm hits. Winter tires, a first aid kit, and maybe brushing up on your winter driving skills are a must.

For Sherbina, flexibility is the key to managing Mother Nature’s wrath. It has implemented a remote working plan for its employees to ensure that bad weather does not disrupt its business. So if the weather outside is terrible, his employees stay home. It’s a philosophy he also applies to his travels. So if he can’t fly, he starts driving – or vice versa.

“My advice would be to always have a contingency strategy in place to deal with any potential disruption from El Niño-induced weather,” he said.

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Let’s talk about travel insurance

Yes, travel insurance can cover an extreme weather event like a blizzard caused by El Niño. But now is the time to think about it.

“Once an event impacting a destination is announced, such as a severe winter storm, it is too late to purchase travel insurance and protect your prepaid expenses,” explains Daniel Durazo, director of external communications for Allianz Partners United States.

Don’t forget to read the policy. Some insurance coverage is general and covers weather disruptions. But other policies can be quite detailed, and you need to know what’s covered before a big storm hits your airport.

For example, a policy like Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection (BHTP), specializing in flight coverage, intervenes in the event of a snowstorm leading to the cancellation of a flight or a delay caused by the de-icing of the aircraft’s wings.

In addition to its air travel coverage, BHTP also offers a policy called ExactCare Extra, which includes coverage for snow-related accidents, such as rental car collisions on icy roads or storm-related delays and cancellations. of snow. Other travel insurance policies offer similar coverage.

“Insurance is a small investment that can save you a lot of stress and money,” said Ajay Kumar Shrestha, a hiking guide in the Himalayas. “But you have to make sure it covers the weather.”

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How to avoid weather disruptions caused by El Niño

There is only one way to avoid extreme winter conditions while still traveling: choose your destination carefully to avoid the worst. Head south to avoid severe blizzards. Or travel to Asia or Europe to escape the worst effects of this weather pattern.

This is how I plan to avoid El Niño this year. My next writing assignment takes me to South America for the Southern Hemisphere Summer in December, January, and February. I’ll be in Chile next month, where experts say it will be a little warmer than usual because of El Niño. But thank goodness there was no snowstorm.

Elliott’s El Niño Travel Tips

  • Find a travel advisor who can handle a crisis: Hire a competent travel advisor and make sure they know how to handle a crisis. Agents specializing in adventure travel and business travel should do the trick. Here’s how to find an agent.
  • Give yourself more time to get there: If you are traveling during El Niño, it may take longer if you are caught in a storm. “Personally, I always allow extra time at either end of my trip in the winter to make sure I don’t get too close and miss an important meeting or event,” said John Gobbels, director of the exploitation of Medjet.
  • Download a weather app and set alerts at your destination: No one questions smartphone weather apps, but you need them in an El Niño year. Here’s a good place to start: set up weather alerts for your destination (here’s how to do it on your iPhone). This way you know what kind of problems await you. Bookmark it National Weather Service website and check out an app like MyRadar, which allows you to track a storm.

Christopher Elliott is an author, consumer advocate and journalist. He founded Elliott’s Plea, a nonprofit organization that helps solve consumer problems. He publishes Elliott Confidentiala newsletter on travel and Elliott Report, a customer service news site. If you need help with a consumer problem, you can contact him here or send him an email to [email protected].

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