Dealing with weather cancellations

The weather last weekend from Washington, DC to Boston was pretty miserable for folks looking to fly.  I had a blast watching the almost foot of snow pile up on the back deck and then wandering through Manhattan the following morning but I know that the airports, airlines and passengers didn’t fare so well.  Just how badly they fared, however, is interesting to look at.

In Washington, DC, both United and Delta cancelled all of their flights in and out for the duration of the storm.  They didn’t have much choice as the airports were shut down for several hours.  United got back up and running pretty quickly while Delta was a bit slower to get started.  It makes sense as Dulles is a major hub for United.  Plus, Delta did send in a few extra planes late on Sunday to help move passengers around.

In New York City there were also a large number of flights canceled.  Delta, United, jetBlue and Continental all had to cancel a number of flights.  jetBlue seemed to keep operating the longest, running flights into JFK well after the others had stopped on Saturday night.  Yes, it was still snowing, but the airport had their ground operations crews working hard to make sure that the runways were safe and jetBlue had just a few extra planeloads of passengers that they didn’t end up stranding.  Again, it is a hub operation so it makes sense that they were focused on keeping things operating as much as possible. 

JFK is also a hub for Delta, however, and they didn’t come out of the snow too well there.  They canceled the vast majority of their transcontinental flights out of JFK on Sunday (only 2/11 flew) while the other carriers operated about 80% of their transcon routes.  Delta didn’t send one single plane from JFK to Florida on Sunday.  After the snow had stopped.  They should have had crew available since those folks didn’t fly on Saturday.  Ditto for aircraft.  Yet they didn’t.  Why not?

The icing on the cake for Delta, of course, is that with all the cancelations and the increased load factors in play right now – a function of the holiday travel season and significant capacity cuts in the industry – they aren’t able to get passengers rebooked very easily.  This came to a head yesterday when police were called to handle passengers delayed 3 days trying to get back to Haiti.  When the folks think that Haiti is better than the service and facilities you’re providing you know there are some serious issues.  At least Delta finally stepped up and added a special flight for today to get those folks home.

Continental seemed to come out of the mess relatively unscathed.  Sure, they canceled a bunch of flights just like everyone else, but they didn’t seem to have too many crises come out of the efforts.  And they were able to get up and running on Sunday morning with a pretty full schedule operating. 

US Airways proved true to form from a customer service perspective.  They were boarding and upgrading non-revenue passengers rather than paying customers.  They told standby passengers that flights were full and then sent the flights out with empty seats.  Bad form.

And lest anyone think the troubles were isolated to the United States, folks over in Europe didn’t fare much better.  Combining two package tour companies going out of business in the past week and some storms there and things are not good.  Brussels was closed for several hours as were the London airports.  Fortunately British Airways had some spare wide-body aircraft around to help cover for the cancellations but things aren’t pretty there  either.

With predictions of a White Christmas in NYC this year we could be looking at a repeat performance again this weekend.  I’m glad to be flying out on Thursday evening before the fun really starts.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Have a safe trip out!

    I’m transiting(?) through NYC on Saturday. On DL MCO-LGA then 3 hours later starting my OneWorld award ex-JFK.

    Probably going to use the weather waiver on DL to switch to flying into JFK either the night before or earlier in the AM on Sat. Not sure yet, waiting to see how things work out.

  2. Safe trip to you as well!

    I’d definintely try to get changed to JFK. Assuming that Delta has bothered to start operating flights there from Florida again. 😉

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