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December 2013

Yes, this was the mess I was greeted by on December 26, 2012, right outside my door. This year, I thought I'd have a little more time before holiday travel season and winter travel season collided. I've got a bad feeling it's going to take more than 8 reindeer and mistletoe to keep me jolly this winter travel season...This year, two seasons that usually create conflict for travelers – both seasoned veterans and holiday travelers – have come together in a perfect storm (no pun intended). And if you’re planning to board an airplane or take to the roads…you may have a bad time.

Thanksgiving week every year marks the beginning of the holiday travel season. And by all indications, this year will be as busy as any other year: AAA projects that 43 million Americans will take to the roads to visit friends and family this week alone, and the U.S. Department of Transportation predicts a 53% increase in all travel. To make matters worse, Winter Storm Boreas is creating a potential travel nightmare for everyone who plans to get on the road or in the air this week. As if the skies and highways weren’t busy enough, the winter storm can only add to the chaos.

It’s already been a hard week for travelers. On Sunday, airlines flying out of Dallas-Fort Worth Airport were forced to cancel hundreds of flights as a result of bad weather in the area. If this is an indication of what else is coming this week, we could all be in for a hard holiday travel season.

None the less, for many, holiday travel is a necessity. Be it traveling to see friends, getting together with family, or just to create a holiday memory for years to come, there’s always some reason or want to get out and see the world during the holidays. And for those who want to make holiday travel part of your plans, there are things you can do before you begin to try and make your travels easier. Here are my tips for surviving both the holiday travel season, as well as the winter travel woes:

1: Know before you go
This may seem like a tip from Travel 101, but it’s very easy to forget in the midst of packing, preparing, and double checking your list. If you’re making your holiday travel by road, make sure that you have your route planned and check for any deviations in the plan. If you’re traveling by air, make sure that you’ve checked your flight statuses, and be prepared if you end up with a trip delay, or a flight gets cancelled. If you’re worried about having your travel affected by the storms, contact your travel provider – in situations where winter weather threatens storms, airlines may allow travelers to change their plans without fees.

2: Be travel friendly
Remember that there’s going to be a lot of travelers on the road and in the air starting now, and not stopping until the end of the year. If you’re going by air, make sure that you know the rules when it comes to packing, baggage allowance, and fees that might arise from checking bags. Additionally, remember the rules for passing the TSA checkpoint – especially the rules about laptops out of bags, and the 3-1-1 liquid rule. For those going on the road, know that you’re not alone: 43 million Americans leaves a lot of cars remaining on the road. Plan for extra time on your travels, as road conditions and traffic patterns may change suddenly and unexpectedly.

3: Prepare for the worst case scenario
Nobody wants a delayed flight. Nobody wants to spend a night in a transit city. But yet, as we work through the holiday travel and winter storm seasons, the worst case scenario can take place. When planning and managing your trips, always be prepared for the potential of baggage loss, trip delay, and cancellations. This can be as simple as adding more time to your travels and packing an extra change of clothes in your bag, to purchasing a travel insurance plan.

How are you preparing for the winter storm season? What are your tips to make it through holiday travels in one piece? I’d love to hear your tips – leave me a comment below with your best ideas!


IMG_1555The final day of Star MegaDo 5 saw our very own charter flight take wings over North America. If you’ve never experienced something like this, let me put it this way: imagine flying on a fully-catered flight with 130 of your best friends and fellow travel enthusiasts, all the while exchanging tips and tricks about how to make the most of your travels. The flight itself was an absolute blast – even though I did get stopped at Customs for a brief amount of time (Pro traveler tip: when asked “Do you have any food to declare…” on your customs form: popcorn and chocolate counts - even if you brought it from the United States), the flight and airport experience was an absolute blast! This will be a flight I’ll be talking about for quite a while to come.

Our travels took us from Toronto to Tuscon, Arizona, where we were treated to a tour of the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group – otherwise known as the place where military aircraft goes to retire. The tour was an awesome experience, and allowed us to stretch our legs before hopping back on the airplane to our final destination: San Francisco.

At San Francisco, we were treated to a one-of-a-kind hangar experience with United (our public charter carrier), and got to go behind the scenes with their aircraft repair operations. United sees and repairs aircraft of all kinds at the San Francisco facility – and not just mainline aircraft! Many pieces and parts were stripped for our inspection at the hangar – with many specialists there to explain how it all works!

At the hangar, we learned all about how aircraft are kept safe and sound, starting from the ground up. New technology allows for new ways to keep passengers and crew safe at 30,000 feet above the earth. Here’s some of the ways aircraft crews are making sure you stay safe at cruising speed:

Regular maintenance isn’t just for engines and moving parts
When an aircraft comes in for maintenance, it’s not just the moving parts that get inspected. Advanced technology allows for the continued testing of everything from avionics to in-flight entertainment. And in the event that something is detected as malfunctioning, or comes up questionable, maintenance facilities make sure that testing equipment is available, and prepare backups if necessary. This allows them to switch out the bad gear for testing and repair, and keep you flying as scheduled.

Making sure only qualified parts make it to the airplane
Everything on an airplane – from wings and flaps to landing gear – has a finite operational life. So how do they make sure everything runs safe and secure throughout that life? In the case of landing gear, at least two full landing gear assemblies are kept in stock at all times. This ensures that parts are available as needed, and full landing gear can be replaced. With this stock available, maintenance crews can pull apart old landing gear, and replace or rebuild as needed. In the event that a part has reached the end of the road, that part is pulled and destroyed, so that it can’t end up as a compromised part in another plane. Many of those parts can then be recycled into something new.

Recording safety is priority one
In addition to the moving parts and pieces that are managed and rebuilt, the “Black Boxes” (which are now orange, entertainingly enough) get regular maintenance and rebuilding as well. Made out of an incredibly durable construction (so that they don’t get destroyed), the boxes are regularly serviced and switched out as well, to make sure they record what goes on in flight properly. The “Black Box” unit is actually comprised of two units – one that records two hours of cockpit voice communications, and one that records 20 hours of flight mechanical data. In the event of an emergency, these two items can give valuable insight on what went wrong – and how to fix it for future flights.

Going behind the scenes at United gave a lot of insight as to how everything operates at a major airline maintenance facility, and gave me new respect for what it takes to keep hundreds of flights in air every day. Have you had a flight safety experience that was mitigated by ground crew? Let me know your experiences in the comments below!

(Ed. Note: No compensation nor incentive was given to mention any product or service in this blog. Travel Insurance Services and its affiliated companies do not endorse nor guarantee any product, service, or brand mentioned in this or any blog. However, we sure would love to hear about your experiences with them!)