Carry-On Packing Guide To Survive Winter Storm Flight Delays & Cancellations

Whether it’s a once-in-a-decade blizzard over the Midwest, a corrupted file crashing flight systems at the FAA, or just a lot of regular ice and snow, we all know winter storm flight delays are frustratingly common. Make your air travel easier this season by checking out Knack's expert tips and tricks on what to pack before you leave home in case you get stuck at the airport.

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On average, over 60,000 flights get canceled per year in the continental US and it only gets worse during winter (there were over 2,000 cancellations alone on January 12, 2024). So if you’re flying during Jack Frost’s favorite season, you need to accept the idea that there's a good chance that winter weather may strand you at the airport. To help you out, we pulled together our favorite tips on the things to pack, before you leave your home, that will make a delay or cancellation more bearable. Let’s dive in.



What To Pack When You’re Expecting to Fly In Bad Winter Weather

At Knack we’re big proponents of One Bag living so we're going to start with the fundamental tip of never checking a bag during winter unless you absolutely have to (checked bags often get lost when there are airline delays and cancellations). We’ll go into additional tips below, but in case your flight is leaving soon, here’s our checklist of the must-haves to put in your carry-on that we find will make winter flight delay more bearable.

  • Emergency Tequila Shot (or Two or Three)
  • Snacks or a Small Meal
  • Pillow, Blanket, or Neck Pillow
  • Entertainment (Books, Magazines, Tablets)
  • Sleep Aids
  • One Change of Clothes
  • Work Items (Beyond Your Laptop, Tablet, And Important Documents)
  • Noise Canceling Headphones
  • External Internet Access & VPN 
  • Power Strip
  • External Battery Packs
  • Charging Cables for All Devices
  • Non-liquid Toothpaste & Shampoo
  • Hand Sanitizer & Medicine



The Carry-On Constraints To Remember When Winter Flying

Remember, a carry-on (usually 22x14x9 inches or smaller) has to fit in the overhead compartment of the plane or under the seat in front of you, it can’t contain any liquid containers more than 3.4 ounces in size, and it needs to meet your personal traveling needs, which might include lockable zippers, comfortable handles and shoulder straps, waterproof fabric and linings, and so on. 

>>MORE: How to Pack a Carry-On Backpack



The Ultimate Winter Weather Carry-On Checklist

Carry-On Packing Guide To Survive Winter Storm Flight Delays & Cancellations

Now that we know the constraints we have traveling with a carry-on, let's review some of the essentials that the experts at Knack always pack in their carry-on when winter weather starts looking bad. 

>>MORE: How To Make A Perfect Packing Travel List

Comfort Items to Pack:

Emergency Tequila Shot (or Two or Three)

While the FAA’s rules state you cannot drink your own alcohol on an airplane, the TSA does allow you to bring bottles of alcohol through security in your carry-on bag (so long as they abide by the 3.4 oz and one quart bag rule).

If you’re someone who would want a stiff drink during a multi-hour delay or an overnight cancellation, plan ahead and tuck a few mini-bar bottles into your bag so you don’t have to pay $19 for an airport margarita. Double check your airport’s rules and your local state laws regarding alcohol consumption in airports first though, just in case.

Snacks or a Small Meal

Carry-On Packing Guide To Survive Winter Storm Flight Delays & Cancellations

Not only is airport food notoriously expensive, when you’re dealing with delays or cancellations, you might run into the unfortunate reality that most airport restaurants and eateries aren’t open 24/7. 

Nothing is worse than getting the bad news that you’re going to be in an airport overnight and then also learning the only place to get food is the vending machine. So supply yourself with long-lasting snacks like beef jerky, granola bars, or sandwiches like PB&J. We recommend you avoid food that could spoil unless your carry-on bag has a cold-food section. Here’s what the TSA food rules are, in case you’re curious.

Pillow, Blanket, or Neck Pillow

If you’re going to have to spend hours on end in an airport, do so in comfort. Look specifically for a hiker’s or backpacker’s blanket as they compact easily and take up minimal space in your bag, plus they’re light. With a blanket, you can also wrap up your extra clothes to create a faux pillow. 

If you’re worried about how unprofessional a neck pillow hanging off your carry-on might look, consider getting an inflatable one that won’t take up much space in your bag and is easy to put away.

Entertainment (Books, Magazines, Tablets)

The worst part of waiting in an airport is often the waiting itself, but a six hour delay isn’t so bad when you’ve got a new book in your carry-on or downloaded onto your tablet. 

Keep your entertainment in mind when you’re packing during a delay-ridden time of year. Some of the best things you can choose to keep your mind off the delays are small and light, like reading tablets or iPads, magazines, brain teaser puzzles, and the like.

Sleep Aids

If you’ve ever tried sleeping in an airport, you know how miserable it can be. There’s constant noise, the lights never really dim, you’re not comfortable, and you’re often anxious. So packing some melatonin or another sleep aid can keep you rested enough to deal with winter travel woes without being too cranky. 

If you are going to catch some Z’s in the airport though, lock your bag (or sleep on top of it) just in case. Make sure your bag has lockable zippers and use TSA approved locks to secure your bag’s compartments.

One Change of Clothes

If you absolutely have to check a bag (which we really recommend that you don’t do during periods of possible winter storm flight delays), make sure that you keep an emergency set of clothes in your carry-on. These can make all the difference between wearing sticky, wet clothes for hours because a 9-year-old spilled his soda on you, or being dry and comfortable. While you're at it we recommend having a separate laundry bag for your dirty clothes and a few packing cubes to keep your clothing organized.

Tech & Work Items to Pack:

Carry-On Packing Guide To Survive Winter Storm Flight Delays & Cancellations

Work Items (Beyond Your Laptop, Tablet, And Important Documents)

If you’re on a business trip it is likely you’ll have your laptop with you in your carry-on, but don’t stop there. Think about what you might need if you have to unwillingly spending an entire day in the airport. 

Will you need a headset to help you make your calls while typing? A wireless keyboard so you can work on your manuscript? A stack of papers you’ve been meaning to grade? 

Consider what you’d really hate to not have with you in the event of a day-long winter weather delay, and add it to your carry-on if you can’t live without it. When you’re flying during winter, it’s better to have it and not need it when it comes to business items.

>>MORE: How To Travel With Multiple Laptops

Noise Canceling Headphones

Noise-canceling headphones do double duty if you’re flying during icy weather. They’ll help you keep your sanity on the plane, and in the waiting area too, and if you are going to end up sleeping in the airport, they can provide you blissful silence.

External Internet Access & VPN

If the very worst happens and an airline cancels all its flights at your airport, everybody and their brother is going to be online, trying to book a new flight, check into a hotel, or order an Uber. 

That many people logging online is going to crash the free wifi in the airport and slow it to a crawl. So packing an external cellular hotspot (or just your phone set to hotspot mode) will save you a big headache. Having a tablet or laptop to use to re-book your flight or a hotel instead of relying on a small phone screen will help a lot too.

Beyond that, protecting your internet access by using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) will add an extra layer of security to your digital devices. Public wifi is always risky to use, and if you need to use your credit card number to emergency-book a hotel room, you want to make sure you don’t get your identity stolen by a hacker.

Power Strip

Not something people often think about, but in the event of a mass airport stranding, everybody is going to start fighting over accessible power outlets at the gate. You can be a hero and use a travel power strip to expand a two plug outlet into a source of power for everybody in your party (or just your lucky neighbors).

External Battery Packs

Avoid the plug battles completely with an external battery pack (just make sure it complies with TSA’s 100 hour lithium battery rules). While external batteries can ONLY be carried in your carry on, there is a 2 battery limit depending on the size of the battery and what it is made out of. If you’re curious for the full details, check out the TSA link above.

Charging Cables for All Devices

Sweet and simple. Don’t spend big bucks on an airport iPhone charger if you can avoid it. Bring yours from home! And, as an added tip, make sure every device you plan on bringing is fully charged before you pack your bags. You’ll be glad you did.

>>MORE: What To Pack In Each Knack Pack Pocket

Carry-On Packing Guide To Survive Winter Storm Flight Delays & Cancellations

Hygiene Items to Pack: 

Non-liquid Toothpaste & Shampoo

Managing the allowable one quart bag of liquids containing a ton of little 3.4 ounce bottles of liquids or gels can be a major pain when flying, so dodge around the problem by bringing non-liquid versions of the toiletries you might need. Fortunately, there are many types you can get like toothpaste tablets and shampoo pucks that shouldn’t set off any TSA scanners. 

Hand Sanitizer & Medicine

Airports can be gross, and most of us have lots of leftover hand sanitizer thanks to Covid. Bring a (less than 3.4 oz) bottle, use it to wipe down the gate seat, and keep yourself from getting sick.

Additionally, we recommend you bring EmergenC, Tums, NyQuil, and other medicines to help you feel well while you’re flying. This includes any prescriptions like antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds, insulin or other things that would cause you to suffer if you went without them for 8 hours or longer.



Can One Bag Truly Fit All These Winter Weather Travel Preparedness Items?

Carry-On Packing Guide To Survive Winter Storm Flight Delays & Cancellations

The answer is yes… at least, if that bag is a Knack. 

Knack Packs are designed by people who have spent plenty of time sleeping in airports and managing long flight delays (as well as people who created bags for North Face, Tumi, Coach, and eBags). Our bags are built for comfort, storage, protection, and portability. The main compartment zippers are compatible with TSA-approved locks, the bag is built to resist spills, and the whole thing looks sharp enough to shave with.

Knack Bags Are Built For Travelers, by Travelers

Knack is a 100% remote company with employees spread over 13 time zones so  we all spend a decent number of days each year in an airport, so when it came time to design the perfect expandable One Bag to rule them all, well… we built the Knack Series 2 in Medium (since that size matches most of our laptops).

It meets most airlines' carry-on requirements, plus it has a hidden Trolley Sleeve so you can pair it with a roller bag if you’re using one. Best of all, there’s a separate, hidden, expandable suitcase section for clothes and other items normally confined to the checked bag, which allows you to live a One Bag life to the fullest (and not worry about your entire wardrobe getting trapped in a frozen conveyor belt overnight). 

"My daughter took her Series 2 Medium Knack Pack to Europe and found it very easy to travel with as her carry-on. It contained all of her essentials for the flight and even the first few days of traveling." - Michelle, U.S.

Knack is the type of bag we longed to have when we were traveling in winter (to places like Iceland, the Rockies, the Swiss Alps, and northern New England) so we created it with our needs in mind. We’re confident if it meets our icy weather travel criteria, it will meet yours too.

>>MORE: What Is Your Packing Style?

We Want to Hear From You

Have you survived a winter weather travel delay thanks to your Knack Pack? We’d love to hear about it. Drop us a line at and we’ll share your comments with fellow Knackpackers in a future blog. Don’t forget to tag @knackbags and use #knackbags on social media!

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