Airlines are working to rebuild normal U.S. schedules after a snowstorm battered the East Coast and triggered more flight cancellations yesterday than 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’ flight cuts for today totaled about 1,800 flights as of 4 p.m. in New York, MasFlight said.
Yesterday was the worst day of the winter with 7,561 U.S. flights scrubbed, more than the 7,400 flights eliminated because of Sandy on Oct. 29, 2012, according to updated statistics from Bethesda, Maryland-based MasFlight. Since Dec. 1, 98,000 flights have been canceled, and about 5.7 million passengers have been affected since the beginning of the year, 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.
Newark Liberty International, New York City’s LaGuardia, Charlotte Douglas International, in North Carolina, and Philadelphia International led with cancellations today, Houston-based data provider FlightAware reported. Newark, in New Jersey, had 25 percent of its departures scrapped while 17 percent of LaGuardia’s departures were canceled. Charlotte Douglas had a 19 percent rate and Philadelphia had 16 percent.
While airlines went into today with plans for fewer groundings than a day earlier, the forecast for the area held out the possibility of fresh snow over the weekend, according to AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania.
Yesterday’s cancellations totaled 80 percent or more of departures at Reagan National and Charlotte Douglas, according to FlightAware. Airports in Philadelphia and Baltimore had more than 70 percent of takeoffs canceled.
Philadelphia and Reagan are bases for US Airways (JBLU), now a part of American Airlines Group Inc. (AAL) Delta Air Lines Inc. (DAL), United Continental Holdings Inc. (UAL) 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 return to regular service on the Northeast Corridor between Washington and Boston on Feb. 15 after operating at half its normal schedule on Feb. 13, according to a statement from the railroad.
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.
“This week alone is worse than the worst winter months in prior years,” Marks said.
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