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Picture it: your bags are packed for the sunny getaway you've been dreaming about for weeks. You rearrange your schedule, cancel a few meetings, and lose a few hours of sleep in order to book the earliest flight at the best available rate. You arrive at the airport two hours early, proceed through security, almost unable to contain your vacation excitement. Then disaster strikes, in flashing letters on the arrival/departure screens: FLIGHT DELAYED. Or, even worse: FLIGHT CANCELLED.

Inclement weather can affect air travel in any season, even on the clearest of days. Whether it's high winds, rain, sleet, or snow, you can look forward to a slew of delays that could severely cramp your travel plans. With some simple planning, you can alleviate a great deal of flight frustration so that the bad start doesn't carry over throughout your trip.

Get the forecasts as soon as possible

Before you leave for travel of any kind, it's always a good idea to check the forecasts for your departure and destination city. For complete weather information and forecasts for just about any destination on earth, visit the Weather Channel. You can find weather maps, storm watch information and even a complete travel-specific weather section. Seasonal travel information is also in abundance here, like foliage and ski reports. Enter a zip code, city, or region to get the current forecasts, and even get 10-day local forecasts for over 70,000 destinations worldwide.

For climate information on a particular region, a good place to look is WorldClimate.com.

Remember that bad weather there affects flight status here

Bad weather almost anywhere can wreak havoc with an airline's route schedule, as crews and planes that are stranded at one airport never arrive at subsequent airports, and a ripple effect occurs. When you learn of weather delays in important hub cities, it's time to call your airline to inquire of potential delays on your flight.

Attempt to reroute connections through cities with weather delays

Sometimes the weather at your departure city and your destination can be fantastic, but your connecting city is a mess. Call ahead to see if you can reroute your connection through airports with no delays.

Say you're in California, heading to Florida, and your itinerary has a connection in Dallas, the site of heavy weather. Call your airline from California and ask to be rerouted through a different part of country, say, Chicago, for instance. Your itinerary might get complicated, but at least you won't be sleeping in an airport.

Take morning flights

Morning flights are less likely to be delayed or cancelled than evening flights. The logistical effects of heavy weather accumulate as the day goes on and more and more flights are delayed or cancelled. Planes are more likely never to arrive, or to be put into the back of long lines for takeoff or landing, as the day progresses.

Take care of your lodgings ASAP

If you anticipate an unplanned layover, get to a telephone as quickly as possible to make hotel reservations. Even better -- if you anticipate a layover in a connecting city further along on your itinerary, make a reservation immediately. If you wait until an entire airport's worth of stranded travelers are also scrambling to make reservations, chances are good that airport hotels will be sold out.

Call the airline early and often

Airlines typically update their flight status information on a "just in time" basis; that is, they don't change official status until it's absolutely certain that there will be a delay. So just because they told you your plane is on time at 2 PM, that doesn't mean it will still be on schedule when you leave your house thirty minutes later.

Check flight status as soon as you arrive at the airport

If you anticipate a delay, check departure screens for your flight. If there is a delay, look for an airline representative and ask for instructions before you stand in a long line at check-in or give your bags to anyone. If there is a delay, it's time to call the airline.

Use the 800 number, even (or especially) at the airport

It is often much faster, more convenient, and more successful to use an airline's 800 number to make alternate arrangements than it is to stand in line. Not so long ago, this almost guaranteed you some satisfaction -- for better or worse, most travelers have figured this one out, and the stampede to the phones (or the sound of cell phones being whipped out) often accompanies every flight status announcement.

For those with remote Internet access, check FlightArrivals.com for up-to-the-minute weather and delay information at major airports across the US. Also, most airlines now do real-time flight status updates on the Web. See Independent Traveler's comprehensive list of 800 numbers and Web sites for numbers and direct links.

Don't stray too far from the gate

If you're already at the airport, gate agents may make important announcements not only concerning flight status, but of alternate flight options, lodging offers, and more. Make sure you or someone in your traveling party stays near your gate to hear any important announcements.

Travel Insurance

If you are considering purchasing travel insurance, understand that many travel insurance policies do not cover acts of God such as weather disasters. Check carefully with your provider before you buy.

This article appears courtesy of Independent Traveler. Independent Traveler (www.IndependentTraveler.com) includes a comprehensive travel planning guide featuring worldwide travel bargains (airfare, hotel, car rental, cruise, family vacations) within their Bargain Box (www.BargainBox.com)- as well as travel resources, travel tips, reader's reviews and message boards. The Independent Traveler also publishes Cruise Critic (www.CruiseCritic.com).