Winter Weather Cancels Most Flights Since Hurricane Sandy

Airline cancellations in the U.S. surged to the most since 2012’s Hurricane Sandy as a winter storm battered hub airports in New York, the nation’s biggest aviation market, and elsewhere along the East Coast.

“Anybody who’s operating in the northeast corridor is having a bad day today,” Josh Marks, chief executive officer of industry data tracker MasFlight, said in a telephone interview.

About 7,154 flights in the U.S. had been scrubbed as of 3:30 p.m. New York time, the most since Sandy forced airlines to drop 7,400 flights on Oct. 29, 2012, MasFlight reported today. Tomorrow’s total may fall, with only 592 flights scrapped so far, according to Bethesda, Maryland-based MasFlight.

Geography and meteorology are converging to make the travel disruptions extensive, whether by road, rail or plane. The storm brought heavy snow from Virginia to Maine, blanketing a region that includes some of the nation’s most-traveled highways and railways, as well as the busiest U.S. airspace. Ripples were felt as far away as California, where flights were also canceled.

At Baltimore Washington International, Charlotte Douglas International and Regan National, 80 percent or more of flights were grounded today. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, the largest U.S. airport by traffic, had 35 percent of scheduled takeoffs eliminated, Houston-based data provider FlightAware reported.

Airline Hubs

Atlanta is a hub for Delta Air Lines Inc., and Philadelphia and Washington’s Reagan National are bases for US Airways, now a part of American Airlines Group Inc. American, Delta and United Continental Holdings Inc. 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.

US Airways canceled all flights at Charlotte Douglas airport in North Carolina.

Amtrak’s Washington-to-Boston Northeast Corridor -- which includes the Keystone Service linking New York and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, via Philadelphia -- is operating at about half of its normal schedule today, said spokesman Steve Kulm.

Ridership has increased nationally for the year since most parts of the country have been unaffected, and there has been growth as people switch to trains when flights are canceled, he said.

Airline Diversion

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

Disruptions extend beyond the Northeast with 5 percent of flights canceled at Los Angeles International Airport and San Francisco International Airport, said Mark Duell, vice president of operations at FlightAware. In North Carolina, Governor Pat McCrory warned people to stay off the roads and government offices were shuttered in the nation’s capital.

Maggie Day, a software proposal coordinator with Thomson Reuters Corp., was originally scheduled for a 9:45 a.m. Delta flight to Kalamazoo, Michigan, from Reagan National after traveling to Washington for business.

Delta canceled her flight yesterday and rebooked her on a 12:30 p.m. flight today, which was canceled this morning, said Day, 23. She plans to fly to Lansing, Michigan, tomorrow.

“It’s not a huge deal, but people want to be home in their own beds and at their own offices,” she said.

Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, competes with Thomson Reuters in providing news, information and currency-trading systems.

‘Garden Variety’

JetBlue Airways Corp. has canceled 304 of 828 scheduled departures today, according to an e-mail from the New York-based carrier. 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 after the carrier scrubbed all its New York and Boston service this morning.

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 73,400, with this week’s count surpassing 13,000 flights, according to MasFlight.

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

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.