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big ben snow london blizzard gray englandWintry weather wreaked havoc across Europe this weekend, canceling flights, snarling traffic and leaving thousands of travelers stranded. And it’s not over yet.

CNN reports that although London’s Heathrow Airport has reopened (after being closed all weekend due to severe conditions), travelers should continue to expect major delays throughout the week — perhaps even beyond Christmas Day. Other airports across the Continent are also canceling flights today, including Charles de Gaulle and Orly in Paris, and Germany’s Frankfurt Airport.

The timing of the winter storms has exacerbated the misery for many travelers. “The only thing I want for Christmas is to hug my daughter,” one stranded passenger told CNN.

Unfortunately, this probably won’t be the last time we see major flight disruptions over the next few months, as blizzards are an all-too-common winter travel hazard. So how can you protect yourself if you’ve got a trip planned for this winter? A few tips:

1. Buy travel insurance. If you’ve prepaid for the bulk of your trip and your itinerary includes airports that could be hit by wintry weather, travel insurance is a vital purchase. (Just keep in mind that it’s too late to be covered for this particular winter storm if you’re headed to Europe in the next week or two.)

2. Build in a little extra time. If you’re trying to get to an important meeting or catch the beginning of a cruise, schedule your arrival for at least a day in advance to allow for unexpected delays.

3. Fly direct when you can. The more connections and layovers are involved, the more chances there are that something will go wrong.

4. If you must connect, route your trip through a warm-weather city.

5. Know your rights. It may be a boring read, but don’t ignore the fine print in your airline’s contract of carriage. Are you entitled to a full refund if your flight is canceled? What will the airline give you (if anything) if your flight is delayed?

6. Book through a travel agent. Having an experienced travel professional on your side can be a huge boon when things go awry on a trip. Your agent can help you find a hotel room or make alternate flight arrangements.

7. Be polite. At the height of a winter storm, airline and airport staff will be feeling just as harried as you are. Treat them kindly and they’ll be more likely to go the extra mile for you.

For more ideas, see Winter Travel Tips.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

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