Escaping the NYC Snow Storm to Fly to Houston Via Hawaii?!

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For the last couple of days, the Northeast has been nailed with Winter Storm Grayson that brought with it lots of snow, high winds, extreme temperatures, thousands of canceled flights, closed airports, and more. There is never a good time for something like that to hit, but for it to happen just after New Year’s while there are lots of leisure travelers in the Northeast who are totally unaccustomed to that sort of weather, let’s just say the timing was poor. I have several personal friends from Texas in New York City this week and they have all dealt with the storm in a variety of ways ranging from hunkering down in their hotel to playing in the middle of a frozen Times Square and generally just going about their plans with a side of extra snow.

My friend’s boys making snow angels in front of Macy’s!

No matter how you deal with the storm while you are on the ground, a lot is out of your hands when it comes to getting in the air. Some of my friends were scheduled to fly home from Newark to Houston on a United flight on Thursday, which was the worst day of the storm. Not surprisingly, on Wednesday evening their flight canceled and they were left needing to find a new way home.

They were out and about in the city with two young and active boys when they learned of the problem, so I was happy to get their confirmation number and see what I could do to rebook their flight from the comfort of my couch. During a big weather event like this, once there is a problem with your flight, you need to get on another flight ASAP because you are essentially competing against hundreds or thousands of other travelers who need to do the exact same thing. If you wait a few hours to get around to dealing with your flight, you may find yourself stuck for several more days, especially if you need multiple seats. In fact, it isn’t the worst idea to proactively switch yourself off of a flight at high risk for cancellation even before it officially cancels if a weather waiver is in effect.

In their case, they were supposed to come home Thursday and my first idea when I learned of their cancelation was to see if they could just fly out Wednesday night in advance of the storm. However, by the time I learned of their situation, it was too late for them to realistically make it out on any the remaining options that evening.

United, and most other airlines, make the process to change your flight pretty simple when there is a major weather event. The phone lines will be clogged, so when everything works as it should, you can typically make your changes online and they generally make as many options available as possible. If you do have to call, try calling a call center in another part of the world that may not be as busy. 

The available options were changing as quickly as I could click on them, and some of them were very interesting. My favorite option to get home from a unique itinerary perspective was flying home from Newark to Houston via…Honolulu!

Sure it turned a four-hour flight into a 24-hour journey and a 1,400 mile flight into almost 9,000 miles of flying, but think of all the elite qualifying miles and there are even a few hours between flights to hit up Waikiki!

What better way to thaw out from a winter storm than jumping in this?!

This Houston via Hawaii schedule was indeed a legitimate option presented by United, so I give them major thumbs up for truly presenting every possible option. In the end, I didn’t even mention this option to my friend since she would have laughed me off the face of the earth given that she cares not for elite qualifying miles and was flying with two active young boys, but it was quite the entertaining option home!

If it was in first class, I needed the EQM’s, and I wasn’t flying with little kids I would totally do it myself, though I would hope they would let me spend at least one night in Hawaii between flights so I could maximize a day in Waikiki as I have before!

In the end, that flight from Newark to Honolulu didn’t take off on Thursday like most of the rest, and we picked an itinerary to get them home today through Knoxville, Tennessee. I’m pretty sure I’ve never before seen a United routing from Newark to Houston that involved Knoxville, but given the very small list of options, we took it. Within hours there were no more options to get the three of them home on Friday and it could have easily been Saturday or Sunday before they finally got out.

In truth, we were extremely lucky that this flight made it out as a quick look at the flight status for today out of Newark shows that most of the morning Newark to Houston nonstops never made it off the ground.

They are now almost back to Houston while I am sure there are plenty of people still trying to find their way home out of the Northeast, so we’ll put this one in the success column, though a few hours in Hawaii sure would have been nice, too!

Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.


  1. I used to same day change to fly through Denver for the extra miles when going from Houston to Little Rock; making a 1 hour flight into two 2-hour flights for the extra miles, so I fully support this, especially when it’s Hawaii!

  2. I’m always confused about this: if a plane cannot depart from EWR to IAH because the snow storm in NYC area, another plane can depart from EWR to HNL?

    When I travel during Winter time, if I can, I try to avoid connection flights in the north… sometimes I cannot and I always think about severe weather events.

    In about a month I’ll fly from ZRH to LAX via JFK, but I’ll use two different airlines like Swiss and Delta. Plus, the Swiss flight is in economy but I paid premium for a bulkhead seat and the Delta flight was an award from Alitalia miles. I cannot imagine the chaos if one or both flights will be cancelled.

    Do you think Swiss will embark me on a ZRH-LAX just because LAX is my final destination or they will put me on another flight to NYC area. Do you think they will honour my premium seat to JFK? What else can happen?

    • Short answer is that in the event of severe weather be it snow, rain, whatever fewer planes will make it. Perhaps they are down to fewer working runways, or need to deice, or whatever and some will get out and some won’t so it becomes a game of which flights will make it. Generally speaking, international flights and larger planes make it before others.

      If you book two separate tickets for one trip as you describe, there is risk if things start getting cancelled or delayed. Doubtful they would change you to LAX if you only booked to NY through them. That said, if it was all booked on one ticket but just two carriers, then yes, you may get changed to the nonstop in the event of IRROPS.

      • Great, thanks. This severe weather in north east US should stimulate to the travel expert and write a comprehensive guide for the travelers before they will stuck in the issue (canceled flights, diverted flight, how to act and so on).

        • Short answer to that is act quickly and decisively when a weather waiver is in place. If you can change your plans in adavnce, do it. If you need to play the odds, just keep an eye on your flight and alternate options in the event it does cancel. As I told my friend when her flight cancelled…all options to get home are now bad, so just accept that and let’s find the best of the worst.

  3. This is like some united awards searches, which give you the low mileage price but only on one-stop itineraries like Washington DC to Denver by way of Dayton or Knoxville.

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