The days have steadily been growing longer since the winter solstice on Dec. 21, but there are still plenty of winter days ahead, which means plenty of chances for your clients' travel plans to get disrupted by a winter storm.
This winter has already seen its fair share of snow and frigid temperatures in many regions of the country, but more could be on the way. So what's the best way to keep your clients happy even in the face of a storm and potential delays?
It's preparation, according to Lesley Egbert, owner of Live Longitude, an affiliate of Avoya Travel based in Helena, Mont.
For Egbert, winter-storm planning begins right at the beginning when she's booking a client's trip. Whenever possible, she avoids routing clients' connections through airports likely to be affected by storms.
"In the wintertime, if I can, I try to route people as southern as I can possibly get," she said.
Egbert admitted it doesn't always work out. Even some more southern airports, like Atlanta, can experience delays and cancellations due to snow, and the further south an airport is, the less likely they're prepared to deal with snow.
But routing people through airports like Houston and Miami is often a safe bet during winter.
"That's what I think makes a good adviser. You have to know what your possible problems are when you're booking in June for Christmastime," Egbert said. "And the more prepared you can be on the front end — it makes my job a whole lot easier."
Even the best planning can be susceptible to winter weather, though.
As soon as Egbert is aware of a storm happening, she immediately pulls a list of which clients will be traveling during the event and pinpoints those likely to be affected. She then monitors their traveling situations as closely as possible.
"Try to foresee as many problems as you can," she said.
For instance, she is signed up to get alerts from airlines when any of her clients' travel plans are impacted, something she recommends other agents do, as well.
"We don't always know what flights are going to get canceled. That's kind of the hard part about travel, is that it could change at any time," she said. "We just have to do the best we can to try and prepare the best we can."
When delays and cancellations do occur, that's the time for agents to get creative and look at other options, Egbert said.
Sometimes it's as simple as switching flights.
Other times, it might mean an overnight stay in a connecting city, something that recently happened to Egbert clients en route home to Ohio from Montego Bay, Jamaica, via Charlotte. They missed their connecting flight, but Egbert immediately got them a hotel room in Charlotte for the evening.
It could also mean negotiating with vendors.
Another client of Egbert's was getting ready for a six-night family vacation in Mexico when a weather delay meant they would miss their flight there. She worked with the supplier to do a date shift, so her clients could stay a day later than originally planned, preserving their six-night vacation. They had travel insurance, so there were no extra costs associated with the change.
"You try to take the stress out of the traveler's experience as much as you can, and you just have to deal with the cards you've been dealt," she said. "You can do things to help them so that it's as [small] of an inconvenience as possible."