The reliability of modern air travel is really quite remarkable. Airlines routinely report a success rate of well over ninety-eight percent. Even a drop of a tenth of a percentage point can get the attention of the bean-counters and managers. If a carrier operates 5,000 flights a day, and only one percent cancel, that’s still 50 flights that didn’t go—and hundreds of passengers can be affected. Bump that to 1.1 percent, and you’re up to 55 flights and more stranded passengers. And since the cancellation of one flight often leads to the cancellation of another, you can quickly see the domino effect.

That said, as pilots, we need to be ready for all eventualities. This is especially true if you are a commuter, but applies even if you’re not. When I pack for a trip, I never pack for less than the length of the trip plus one day. I always have at least one extra pair of underwear, socks and a tee shirt just…in…case. In all of my career, I’ve rarely needed it, but I’ve been grateful to have it when I did. In my case, winter weather has almost always been the culprit. Snow and ice slow everything down, and taxiways, ramps and runways may be slowed to a crawl or even a stop. Deicing fluid runs out. Trucks break down. It takes at least 20 minutes to get the fluid heated up. All of this is in direct competition with crew duty times.

I’ve been snowed into various cities for anywhere from one to three days. Sometimes I can see it coming, and prepare accordingly. Other times, not so much. Summers are easier because you can pretty much count on a pair of shorts and shirt to do the trick. Winters are tougher to pack for, because you don’t always know what kind of clothes to take or where you will end up. And even south Florida in the winter can be downright cold.

In addition to having a suitcase that is properly packed without turning into a rolling brick, you also need to have enough cash in your wallet for any contingencies. In cold climates, an ice storm can knock out power grids, rendering credit cards unusable. A power pack to charge your phone is handy as well in case of a power failure. Do you take prescription medication that may not be refillable out of state? Take enough for two weeks just in case.

As the winter weather digs in, my bag always gets a bit heavier—jeans instead of shorts, maybe a winter jacket as well. Doing laundry on trips is never fun, and doing it in the sink or the tub is even less so. But getting stuck somewhere can also be a lot of fun and a chance from some great camaraderie, and will undoubtedly lead to some of your best stories. My all-time favorite was an unexpected 4 day vacation in St. Maarten, which I know will never happen again. But you can bet that if it does, I will be adequately prepared!