Transport Airlines

Winter Storm Caused Almost as Many Flight Cancellations as Hurricane Sandy Thursday

Feb 14, 2014 10:00 am

Skift Take

Airlines will spend the rest of the weekend getting their flight schedules back on track after what will hopefully be the last major disruption of 2014.

— Samantha Shankman

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Hyungwon Kang  / Reuters

Flight information including delays are on display on a screen at the Washington Dulles Airport in Dulles, Virginia February 9, 2014. Hyungwon Kang / Reuters


Airlines are working to rebuild normal U.S. schedules today after a snowstorm battered the East Coast and triggered the most flight cancellations since 2012’s Hurricane Sandy.

“There’s going to be a lot of activity at the airlines trying to bring the pieces back into line,” Josh Marks, chief executive officer of industry data tracker MasFlight, said in a telephone interview. Airlines’ pre-emptive flight cuts for today totaled about 600 flights as of late yesterday, MasFlight said.

More than 7,100 U.S. flights were scrubbed yesterday, almost matching the 7,400 that were eliminated because of Sandy on Oct. 29, 2012, according to Bethesda, Maryland-based MasFlight. The 4,100 cancellations on Feb. 12 were the fourth- highest tally this winter, MasFlight said.

Geography and meteorology converged to make the travel disruptions so extensive. The storm spread heavy snow from Virginia to Maine, blanketing a region that includes New York’s busiest-in-the-U.S. airspace, hub airports in Philadelphia and Washington, and some of the nation’s most-traveled highways and rail lines.

Airlines plan for foul weather with early cancellations by moving aircraft out of the path of snow, heavy rain or high winds, ensuring that passengers won’t be imperiled and letting carriers keep flying elsewhere.

Weather Forecast

While airlines went into today with plans for fewer groundings than a day earlier, the overnight forecast for the area held out the possibility of fresh snow, according to AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania.

Yesterday’s cancellations exceeded 80 percent of departures at Baltimore Washington International and Washington’s Reagan National, as well as Charlotte Douglas International in North Carolina, Houston-based data provider FlightAware reported. Philadelphia International had more than 70 percent of takeoffs canceled.

Philadelphia and Reagan are bases for US Airways, now a part of American Airlines Group Inc. Delta Air Lines Inc., United Continental Holdings Inc. and American each operate hubs at one or more of the New York airports — New York City’s LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International, and New Jersey’s Newark Liberty.

Amtrak plans to add service to the Northeast Corridor between Washington and Boston after operating at half its normal schedule yesterday, according to a statement from the railroad.

Amtrak Benefit

Ridership has increased nationally for the year because most parts of the country have been unaffected, and Amtrak also has picked up business as would-be airline passengers switch to trains when flights are canceled, said Steve Kulm, a spokesman.

“There’s no question that when airlines and airports shut down people divert to Amtrak where Amtrak is a travel option for them,” he said. “So long as we’re running, we do see some uptick from airline diversions.”

With snow crimping flights at so many hub airports in the East, including Delta’s base in Atlanta, yesterday’s disruptions reached airports across the country. About 5 percent of flights were wiped out at Los Angeles International and San Francisco International, said Mark Duell, vice president of operations at FlightAware.

JetBlue Airways Corp. canceled 267 departures yesterday, according to MasFlight. With bases in Boston and New York, JetBlue has been one of the most affected airlines this winter, with 1,800 trips scrapped in a five-day span in January.

“This is typical, standard-issue, garden-variety winter weather that airlines have to deal with,” Jennifer Dervin, a spokeswoman, said yesterday after the carrier scrubbed all its morning service in New York and Boston.

MasFlight’s Marks took a longer view of the travel disruptions, which included a projected $150 million in added costs and lost revenue for U.S.-based airlines in January and $2.5 billion in extra expenses for passengers. Cancellations for 2014 have totaled 75,300, with this week’s count surpassing 14,900 flights, according to MasFlight.

“This week alone is worse than the worst winter months in prior years,” Marks said.

With assistance from Mary Schlangenstein in Dallas and Brian K. Sullivan in Boston. Editors: Molly Schuetz, Ben Livesey.

To contact the reporter on this story: J. Kyle O’Donnell in New York at jodonnell49@bloomberg.net. To contact the editor responsible for this story: Ed Dufner at edufner@bloomberg.net.

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