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Travel expert Kelly Rasmussen warns of the dangers of winter travel

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Winter is still upon us and the Department of Transportation and seasoned travel agent Kelly Rasmussen want to make sure travelers are ready for any wild pitch Mother Nature may throw their way.

The most recent storm of this everlasting winter froze over a slew of Southeastern states, from Atlanta to Charlotte, leaving over 700,000 without power. Over the past decade, winter weather, on average, causes 24 deaths each year, according to the National Weather Service.

Winter Storm Pax was held responsible for at least 18 deaths, most involving traffic accidents, explains Kelly Rasmussen. In the span of two days, seven car accident fatalities were attributed to the storm in Texas alone. Following the icing in Raleigh, NC, locals awoke to the sight of abandoned cars lining the roads.

After causing heavy damage in the south, an intensifying Winter Storm Pax pummeled its way north. For the first time in the city’s history, Philadelphia saw its fourth 6-inch snowstorm. Airlines cancelled more than 5,600 flights into and out of the U.S. The storm also forced two main airports in Washington D.C. to completely shut down.

The relentless recurrence of snowstorms even threw the Super Bowl a curve ball this year. Fans convened in East Rutherford, NJ where they were greeted with a not-so-friendly Winter Storm Warning. Ironically, said Kelly Rasmussen, this was the first Super Bowl played in a cold-weather stadium.

As if the Super Bowl wasn’t a large enough spectacle, Winter Storm Maximus’ postgame appearance made travel miserable and nearly impossible for out-of-towners in attendance. According to FlightAware.com, more than 1,900 flights were cancelled the next day.

While the ground remained dry during game time, just six hours following the bowl, the impending storm arrived, devastatingly impacting travel throughout the tri-state area and much of the Northeast.

This isn’t the first time Mother Nature has wreaked havoc on Super Bowl travelers’ plans. In 2000, an ice storm battered Atlanta on Super Bowl weekend, causing hundreds of accidents, disrupting the teams’ practices and delaying travel plans immensely.

Just last February, record-breaking Winter Storm Nemo pounded New England, leaving some to call it the worst blizzard since 1888. In the worst hit areas, Nemo is still the worst winter storm on record. In Hamden, CT, locals spent days digging their way out of 40 inches of snow.

What To Do if the Going Gets Snowy
Travelers can view flight delay information for any major U.S. airport on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) website. Airlines also post this information. The easiest way for travelers to stay updated, however, is to sign up for flight alerts from their specific airline.

A winter storm can turn a simple walk down the street into an extremely hazardous trek. During these perilous times, government officials and weather advisors discourage long-distance travel and urge people to stay home, if possible.

For air travelers, winter weather means long delays and oftentimes-untimely cancellations. In fact, according to statistics from the Department of Transportation, lousy weather accounts for more than 40 percent of flight delays.

For weather-related cancellations, many airlines allow customers to reschedule and waive any allotted fees. “It’s in the customer’s best interest to reschedule sooner than later,” explained Kelly Rasmussen. “The longer the customers wait, the less flexibility airlines tend to have.”

If a flight is cancelled, travelers should find the nearest gate desk or call the airline customer service number. Better yet, travelers should do both simultaneously and speak with whomever they reach first. Those looking to book the next possible flight should utilize airport Wi-Fi to re-book their ticket online even faster.

Don’t be played for a fool though. There are certain rights travelers have as a customer. U.S. airlines are not obligated to compensate travelers for cancelled domestic flights, but as Rasmussen explains, “Rule 240 obligates airlines to put passengers of delayed and cancelled flight on the next plane to their destination regardless of airline. However, this only applies to non weather-caused cancellations and delays.”

What happens when disaster disrupts travel back home? As a customer, it helps to be flexible. A passenger with a cancelled flight to Philadelphia International (PHL) could seek out a flight to a nearby airport such as John F. Kennedy (JFK) or La Guardia in New York.

Severe winter weather has a paralyzing effect on the areas it storms over. Kelly Rasmussen and the Department of Transportation urge all travelers to remain alert and well informed during all travel, but especially when inclement weather is in play.

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