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 common between December and February.

knack airport cancellations and delays

In December 2022 over a four day period, US airlines canceled 12,000 flights (and on average 60,000 get canceled per year in the continental US). So if you’re flying during Jack Frost’s favorite season, you need to accept the idea that winter weather is likely to strand you at the airport. To help you out, we pulled together our favorite tips on what 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 a brief checklist of what you should pack in your carry-on.

  • 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
  • VPN & External Internet Access
  • 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

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. 

The Ultimate Winter Weather Carry-On Checklist

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

Before you leave your house to get on a winter flight, double-check that you have all of these things in your carry-on.

Comfort Items:

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 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 well 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:

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’re 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.

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 to catch some Z’s. 

If you are going to sleep in the airport though, we recommend buying some TSA approved locks for your bag to ease your peace of mind. Just remember, your zippers need to be lockable for this to work effectively.

VPN & External Internet Access

If the very worst happens and an entire airline cancels all its flights, 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 on is going to crash the free wifi in the airport and slow it to a crawl, and your cellular network is likely to suffer the same fate, if you can get a signal at all. 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 cramped phone screen will help you 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 expand a two plug outlet into a source of power for everybody in your party (or just your lucky neighbors). 

Bringing a power strip means you can guarantee you get access to power for your devices, and you can help your fellow traveler.

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.

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

Hygiene Items: 

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. Our bags are built for comfort, storage, protection, and portability, the zippers are compatible with TSA-approved locks, the bag is built to resist spills, and the whole thing looks sharp enough to shave with. 

Knacks Are Built For Travelers, by Travelers

Most of us at Knack work remote and we all spend a decent amount of days each year in the 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 the carry-on requirements most airlines have, 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 the One Bag life to the fullest (and not worry about your entire wardrobe getting trapped in a frozen conveyor belt overnight). 

A Knack is the bag we longed to have when we were traveling in winter when the weather is bad, so we created it to meet those specific needs, and we’re confident if it meets our icy weather travel criteria, it’ll likely meet yours too.

We Want to Hear From You

Have you survived a winter weather travel thanks to your Knack Pack? We’d love to hear about it. Drop us a line at [email protected] 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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