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Airlines Seek Rebound After U.S. Cancellations Top Sandy

U.S. Flight Cancellations
A man looks at a flight status screen flashing "Canceled" notices at Dulles International Airport, Virginia near Washington, D.C., February 13, 2014. Photographer: Paul J. Richards/AFP via Getty Images

Airlines finally confronted a U.S. storm that proved tougher to handle than 2012’s Hurricane Sandy.

An updated count of U.S. flight cancellations from the snow that blanketed the East Coast on Feb. 13 showed that the industry erased 7,561 trips, MasFlight reported yesterday. That eclipsed the tally of 7,400 flights eliminated by Sandy on Oct. 29, 2012, according to Bethesda, Maryland-based MasFlight.

Like Sandy, this week’s storm walloped New York, home to the busiest U.S. aviation market, along with airport hubs in cities including Washington and Philadelphia. That disrupted flights for American Airlines Group Inc., United Continental Holdings Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc., the three biggest U.S. carriers, and sent ripples across the U.S. air-traffic system.

“This has been a very difficult week,” American Chief Operating Officer Robert Isom said yesterday in a message to employees. “The snow and ice storms we have experienced since December have led to the highest number of cancellations our industry has seen in more than 25 years.”

Since Dec. 1, 98,000 flights have been scrubbed, and about 5.7 million passengers have been affected in 2014, MasFlight said. Early cancellations help airlines move jets out of the way of bad weather, ensuring that passengers won’t be imperiled and letting carriers keep flying elsewhere.

Airline Stocks

The storm helped damp investor sentiment, Hunter Keay, a New York-based analyst at Wolfe Research, wrote in a note to clients yesterday. The nine-carrier Bloomberg U.S. Airlines Index fell 0.5 percent for the week, paring its 2014 gain to 12 percent. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index is down 0.5 percent.

While the weekend forecast for the U.S. Northeast threatened more snow, airlines kept most of their schedules intact heading into today, with only 169 pre-emptive cancellations tallied by industry data provider FlightAware as of late yesterday. The Feb. 14 total was more than 1,600 U.S. cancellations and more than 6,800 delays.

New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International, Washington’s Reagan National, Charlotte Douglas International in North Carolina and New York’s LaGuardia led yesterday’s cancellations as a percentage of planned departures at U.S. hubs, Houston-based FlightAware reported.

Boston probably will get 4 to 9 inches (10 to 23 centimeters) of snow today, while 1 to 3 inches are forecast in New York and 1 to 2 inches in Philadelphia, on top of snow and ice left from the earlier storm, the National Weather Service said.

Amtrak plans to return to regular service on the Northeast Corridor between Washington and Boston today after operating at half its normal schedule on Feb. 13, according to a statement from the railroad.

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