The effects of Hurricane Sandy will be felt for a long time, and not just on the ravaged ground -- also in the air. Flights to the East Coast will be packed, as airlines accommodate fliers who had been scheduled on the more than 16,000 flights canceled because of last week's storm.

In what some experts are calling a new era of mega-storms, what can travelers do to ward off chaos when the next one hits? Be prepared and don't panic.

In the case of Sandy, airlines offered ticket-holders refunds or the chance to rebook without paying the usual fee, which can be as much as $150. If a storm is brewing ahead of your flight, make a Plan B and be prepared to strike quickly. Passengers generally are rebooked on a first-come, first-serve basis. Be among the first to know there's a problem by signing up for flight alerts with the airlines. If you're already at the airport when bad news arrives, call the airline on your cellphone (the number should be programmed in) even as you run to the ticket counter; stick with the one offering help first.

If you are holding an airline ticket for days after the big event, don't worry about losing your seat -- provided you get to the airport on time. Existing ticket-holders will get their spot ahead of stranded passengers, but airlines can bump anyone not at the gate by the appointed time. I suggest arriving at the airport two hours before departure for a domestic flight, three hours for an international flight -- especially when storms have turned airports into makeshift hotels. Delta says passengers must be checked in at least 30 minutes before a domestic flight and an hour before an international flight.

Send your questions or tips to travel editor Kerri Westenberg at, and follow her on Twitter @kerriwestenberg.