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Wintertraveltips When the snow starts drifting down, youwant to be relaxing by the fireplace, perhaps sipping hot chocolate in a mountain ski lodge — not stranded in a cramped airport corridor because of a delayed flight.

There’s nothing like overcrowded terminals, impossibly long delays, harried airline workers and the dreaded airport sleepover to ruin your travel experience.

But a little planning will go a long way toward helping you avoid those winter travel travails. The more prepared you are, the easier it will be for you to get through the airport and start your vacation.

That preparation includes monitoring weather reports and checking the Flying Forecast, where Orbitz air-traffic analysts provide round-the-clock updates on flight delaysat major airports across the U.S.

Flexibility pays

If it looks like weather might become an issue, remember that your carrier may let you change your airline tickets without paying a change fee. Airlines increasingly do that when bad weather sets in. So if you’re flexible, and you know a storm is coming, contact your airline to see what its waiver policy is.

One way to limit the risk of snow-related delays is to schedule flights early in the day, when equipment is more likely to be at the gate and ready to fly, and before the flight cancellations accumulate and airlines start scrambling to rebook passengers.

Preparation applies to packing, too. Since you may not have access to your checked baggage if you getstuck at an airport hub, make sure you put everything you’ll need over the next 24 hours — clothing, medication, toiletries (in 3-ounce travel sizes in keeping with the TSA’s 3-1-1 policy) — in your carry-on.

Also make sure you set up OrbitzTLC Alerts, which provide free updates about gate changes, flight delays and cancellations. Get these alerts by phone, on your computer or PDA. Plus, you can sign up 6 others to receive your alerts, such as the person picking you up at your destination or a colleague waiting for your arrival to start a meeting.

What’s the holdup?

Heavy snow, of course, is typically the biggest offender when it comes to flight delays, as poor visibility, along with plowing and treating of runways, limits the number of planes that can land every hour.

Even if snow is light, a combination of wind and snow can severely hamper visibility.

Another key factor is plane deicing, which happens when there’s a mixture of freezing temperatures and fog or precipitation. Delays can last at least 30 minutes or longer, depending on how well prepared an airport is for deicing measures.

The same goes for snow. Just because you’re flying into or out of an airport that’s more likely to see snowy conditions doesn’t necessarily mean you’re more likely to see delays. In fact, some of those airports may be better equipped to handle a snowstorm and send planes on their way.

And even if your airports aren’t affected by the weather, that doesn’t mean you won’t feel a ripple effect. If there’s a major storm in the East, for example, be prepared across the country for possible delays and cancellations.

So go ahead and book the flights for your winter vacation. Just be flexible and take advantage of the resources available to help make your travel easier.

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