JetBlue to Halt NYC Flights as Weather Cripples Service

JetBlue Airways Corp., struggling to resume normal flights after winter storms that began last week, will temporarily halt service at all three New York-area airports and its base in Boston.

Operations are winding down this afternoon at New York’s Kennedy and LaGuardia airports, New Jersey’s Newark Liberty and Boston Logan before stopping at 5 p.m. local time, and won’t resume until 10 a.m. tomorrow, JetBlue spokesmen said. The New York-based carrier said it scrubbed 526 flights as of 4 p.m.

JetBlue’s cancellations erased more than half its daily schedule of about 900 flights in a trade-off to gain time to reposition planes and crews. That was the biggest pullback among major U.S. airlines, according to industry data tracker

“They’ll take the hit for doing this,” said Robert Mann, who runs aviation consultant R.W. Mann & Co. in Port Washington, New York. “But at least they will have given their customers some certainty. The big test is whether service restarts as anticipated.”

Industrywide cancellations today in the U.S. exceeded 3,800, pushing the total past 10,000 in four days, as other carriers struggled to rebuild their schedules, FlightAware reported.

‘Unforeseen Events’

Weather-related disruptions aren’t unique to JetBlue, Chief Operating Officer Robert Maruster said today in an interview on CNBC. New U.S. regulations limiting pilot work schedules and airport closures also contributed to the cancellations, he said.

“There were a lot of unforeseen events that were really outside of our control that were impacting our ability to operate correctly,” Maruster said. “We know there are a lot of upset customers in a lot of places that are waiting to get home from the holiday. We’re trying to get as many people moving as quickly as possible as soon as this weather abates a little bit.”

Southwest Airlines Co. suspended flights into Chicago’s Midway International Airport until at least later this afternoon as an arctic cold front gripped the city, Dan Landson, a spokesman for the Dallas-based carrier, said by phone. Southwest is the busiest airline at Midway.

Frigid Chicago

Temperatures as low as -13 degrees Fahrenheit (-25 degrees Celsius) in Chicago prompted airlines to cancel about 1,600 flights at O’Hare International Airport and 85 at Midway, the city’s aviation department said in a press release.

JetBlue’s disruptions probably will evoke memories of its six-day effort to recover from an ice storm on Feb. 14, 2007, Mann said. Planes were grounded across the airline’s network, stranding fliers on jets and in terminals for as long as 10 hours.

The shares fell 4.3 percent to $8.66 at the close in New York, its biggest decline since April. The stock rose 49 percent last year, the sixth-best return among nine carriers in the Bloomberg U.S. Airlines Index.

JetBlue is the biggest domestic carrier by passengers at both Kennedy and Logan airports, according to data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. New York’s airports together make up the busiest U.S. travel market, and disruptions there can ripple through the nation’s airspace.

“While we have to reduce operations in our Northeast cities today, we’ll take the opportunity to use some of those planes and crews for extra sections between cities where we they’re most needed and move crews in preparation for starting back up on Tuesday,” JetBlue said on its website.

The airline also said its toll-free customer service number was suffering from unspecified “issues,” and asked for travelers’ patience while that line was restored.

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