As businesses are winding down and employees preparing to travel for Christmas, it is important to be aware of the possibility of disruption over the festive period. Northern Germany, Scandinavia and parts of eastern Europe have all already seen snowy conditions. Elsewhere ice and frost will increase the risk to road users. Over the last week, stormy conditions in the UK resulted in strong winds at Manchester Airport, making landing difficult and heavy rainfall caused disruption on the roads throughout most of the country.
Travel in the winter months, whether for business or for pleasure, presents several additional challenges for travellers. Preparation remains essential even for the experienced business traveller. Snow, ice, strong winds and heavy rain will present heightened risks for all road users and away from company work, travelling somewhere warm for Christmas or for an early 2019 Skiing holiday in the Austrian Alps, could become a nightmare of a journey as flights are slowly cancelled.
However, while most of us won’t be able to solve many of the problems; sheer willpower won’t clear the fog from Heathrow’s runways, stop snow causing delays on the A10 out of Paris or allow trains to run after strong winds down trees onto Hamburg Hauptbahnhof’s main rail lines; preparations can be made to ensure that you avoid being left stuck on a motorway, on a train or sleeping in an airport. Much of the advice listed below will be common sense for seasoned travellers; however, it is always good to be reminded of little tips that might make that big difference.
Therefore, here are seven points that can help travellers, whether they are undertaking business or leisure activities, navigate the Christmas and winter period.
- Fly early and fly direct
As nice as it would be to get a few extra hours of sleep, and as annoying as it may be having to kill time once you reach your destination; book the earliest flight possible. This can be especially true if you are flying to places that have multiple flights per day; London to Dubai, Paris to Nice or New York to Los Angeles for example. Booking early flights has significant advantages over even the second or third flight of the day; as the aircraft is usually already at the airport, at the stand, waiting for passengers to board. This means the chances of your flight being impacted by the aircraft being delayed whilst at another airport are much lower. It also mitigates against the chance that knock on delays will affect your journey.
Additionally, if your flight is affected, then, chances are, there is plenty of time for the airline to solve the problem and get you on your way. If you are travelling on a route that has multiple flights, this will also give you the opportunity to be put on the next flight as well or even with another airline’s flight to the same destination. If the early flight is not possible due to client meetings, for example, then the second to last flight will always give you another flight as a back-up option. The best flight to book if spending a couple of days a week in a location is the second to last flight on a Thursday; these flights tend to be less busy than those at other times but still gives you an option of having a backup flight.
Flying direct also helps minimise the threat of being impacted by disruption at another airport. When you only have one leg and the flight is cancelled; you can wait at home, or at your hotel and hopefully be put on one of the upcoming flights mentioned in the previous paragraph. However, if you have multiple legs, then the chance of running into problems multiplies. Delays to your flight could result in you missing the next leg, or if your second flight is cancelled altogether, then you’ll be stuck, at an airport, possibly in a third country with limited options.
- Become a weather expert
The big mistake most people make is only realising that bad weather will impact them when flights are beginning to be cancelled and it’s snowing. Winter weather is quite predictable and 72-hour forecasts are very accurate. If you can see that Frankfurt – where you are planning to fly from – will be hit by a blizzard in three days, begin planning immediately and seeing if you can modify your flights. Even a small fee here could see you saving big in the long run. While insurance companies do not cover winter delays that have not happened yet, airlines can be more accommodating. Should an airline see a period of poor weather upcoming, they may recognise the savings they will also make and waive any additional charges. Do not expect miracles, however, many people may have the same ideas; patience and politeness can go a long way. There is never any harm in asking.
This leads directly into point three; flexibility. Buying tickets that allow you to make amendments or changes can cost extra but can save money in the long run. By having the option of moving your flight, you may be able to leave a day earlier, beating the storm and arriving at your destination.
Flexibility should be factored into all your travel plans during the festive period. If you see that everything has gone wrong, flights are being cancelled and though there still is a chance you might make it out, you’re on your third cancelled flight already. Then the best option may be to book a hotel now; make a reservation for a hotel that can be cancelled. Even if nothing has gone wrong yet, it may only be an hour delay at the moment and a light flurry, or maybe you just checked the weather and thought this could deteriorate quickly. By having a cancellable booking, you are ahead of the crowd and could end up saving yourself from sleeping on the airport floor.
- Chargers, power banks and battery saver
The worst has happened, and your flight has been cancelled; it is likely that all the charging areas will quickly be taken by people busy watching episodes on their tablets or desperately trying to charge their phones in order to change their flights. The help desks will also quickly see long queues. As such, making sure your devices have at least a bit of juice left is vital for instances like this. It will allow you to rebook flights and call customer services if you cannot get through the plethora of people at Information. It will also allow you to book taxis/Ubers, check weather updates and book hotels instantly.
It can also not always be useful/possible to preserve battery on your phone, therefore, having a back-up power bank should be one of the first things a business traveller packs. They can be vital in many situations and, as such, it is important to keep this power bank routinely topped up. Ensuring your charger is easily available and having a vehicle charger are also positive methods of keeping devices charged. If you have 30 minutes to kill and there is a plug available, it can always be a good idea to plug your device in, you never know if you’ll need it later. On flights as well, while many airlines have Wi-Fi now, if you are not using the device with it in Airplane Mode; then turn it off, this will stop you occasionally checking it and running the battery down.
If your flight is delayed or cancelled due to severe weather; airlines can be very helpful but have little legal obligations to help. Additionally, if it is just you and a few others affected then it can be easy for the airline to manage and place you on the next flight. However, should a heavy snowstorm result in the shutting down of a major international airport for even a few hours, hundreds of flights will be delayed, then tens of thousands of passengers will need new seats and hotels are likely to book up fast. All this puts massive pressure on the infrastructure of airlines to manage. Ensuring that you have adequate insurance is vital. Aspects such as travel delay coverage, 24/7 assistance and missed connection coverage can both help you get home, or to where you are going quicker and help bear the brunt of possibly spiralling costs. Adequate insurance coverage will help you book a room for the night, pay for meals and can just smooth out what could be a rocky process.
Just because it is Christmas or cold outside does not mean that criminals and others are not operating. As the recent attack in Strasbourg shows, individuals inspired by terrorist groups have the desire to carry out attacks over the festive period. Christmas markets also provide the perfect opportunity for petty thieves; with people wrapping up warm and the large number of people giving ample opportunity to pickpockets. Elsewhere, religious ceremonies and new years celebrations also provide opportunities for extremist actors; as demonstrated by the 2016 arrests in Melbourne over a plot to carry out a terror attack on Christmas Day in the city or the Turkish nightclub shooting in the early hours of 1 January.
The large number of people located in Christmas markets give a would-be terrorist the perfect opportunity to conduct a potentially high-profile attack. Despite this, and mainly due to previous attacks, many Christmas markets are well policed and now fortified against possible truck attacks. This security apparatus was demonstrated in the Strasbourg attack where Operation Sentinelle soldiers quickly responded to the incident; exchanging fire with the attacker.
The best advice for travellers is to remain aware of your surroundings, especially in crowded areas. Regardless of what level of security is installed; individuals acting alone in ‘lone wolf’ style attacks are always difficult to detect and protect against. While arrests are made regularly, these attacks do and will continue to occur. Familiarise yourself with the country’s security protocols, ensure that you are aware of the local emergency numbers and report any suspicious behaviour to the police. Keep up to date with local and in-country news, remain vigilant in public areas; especially at Christmas markets, crowded areas on New Year’s Eve and other locations where people gather.
- Personal safety
Business travellers are far more likely to be involved in a vehicle accident than a terrorist incident. The icy or snowy conditions make driving more challenging, the average difference in claims frequency per mile between December/January/February and June/July/August 2013-2015 was 20 percent according to UK insurers. This results in the need to drive more cautiously and slowly and may alter the time it takes to get to the airport. Additionally, slips and falls are the main cause of workplace injuries in the US and in 2014 there were 42,480 workplace injuries or illnesses from ice, sleet or snow that required at least one day off work as a result. Of these, 82 percent were due to slips or falls on level ground.
Safety also extends to what you are wearing, walking on slippery surfaces, in cold conditions and the pouring rain. Making sure you dress appropriately for the conditions; having a thick coat, wearing waterproofs and the appropriate footwear are all just as important as being aware of your surroundings and having adequate insurance. Dressing in layers is also useful allowing you to remove and add as needed while getting in and out of taxis, offices or boarding aircraft; the worst thing would be going from being too cold to too hot.
The last thing you want to be doing on icy pavements is rushing for a flight or a train. Winter weather can result in delays on roads, book your taxi to the airport to arrive an extra 15-30 minutes early, catch the quarter-to train instead of the one on the hour and always think about delays a little more; even if conducting a journey you are extremely familiar with. This will avoid rushing or running in often icy conditions; resulting in a slip or fall.