LATEST UPDATE: Thursday: Snowstorm snarls flights; 2,800 cancellations and growing
ORIGINAL POST: Airlines had already canceled more than 2,300 flights for Thursday and nearly all were waiving change fees as a fast-moving winter storm threatened to bring heavy snow to portions of the Northeast.
The storm was forecast to swipe a large area of the Northeast, possibly snarling flights at airports from Pennsylvania and New Jersey north into New York state and coastal New England. The airports in the Baltimore-Washington metro area also could be affected as forecasts called for rain changing to snow, though conditions were not expected to be as bad as to the north.
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Ahead of the storm, airlines moved to preemptively cancel flights to avoid keeping crews and planes snowed in by the storm. By using such a tactic, carriers then aim for a quick restart once the weather passes and airports are able to clear snow from runways and taxiways. In the past, some airlines' operations have been snarled by trying to operate close to the storm's arrival -- sometimes leaving fliers stranded in planes or overnight in terminals.
As of 5:20 p.m. ET, 2,293 flights had been canceled nationwide, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware. That total had been climbing rapidly Wednesday afternoon, suggesting the overall tally would climb even higher.
There also were some cancellations starting to show up on schedules for Wednesday evening, though only about 420 cancellations had been reported nationwide as of 5:20 p.m. ET. That's a relatively modest number on a national basis.
"Today is a mixed bag, but tomorrow, the New York and Boston areas are most impacted with 40% of their flight operations cancelled," FlightAware CEO Daniel Baker said in a statement. "We expect tomorrow and Thursday’s numbers to continue to rise as airlines finalize their plans and then asses the impact on how quickly they can recover."
Already for Thursday, JetBlue had grounded more than 585 flights -- nearly 60% of its entire national schedule -- by early Wednesday afternoon. JetBlue’s two busiest hubs – New York JFK and Boston – were each expected to get a half-foot of snow or more, according to the latest forecasts. It appeared as though JetBlue might halt all or most of its schedules at both airports Thursday. Some of the company's Wednesday evening flights also were canceled.
"In preparation for weather conditions, we are canceling a number of flights in advance of scheduled departure to give customers time to make necessary arrangements," JetBlue spokesman Philip Stewart said in a statement to Today in the Sky. "We are offering rebooking on the next available flight.
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American, which also has multiple hubs in the storm’s path, grounded more than 300 “mainline” flights for Thursday and another 450 on its regional affiliates, according to spokesman Ross Feinstein.
American’s hubs at Philadelphia, New York JFK and New York LaGuardia each were expected to get significant snow. That would be all but certain to snarl flights at the delay-prone airports, each of which experience disruptions even in minor weather events. American also operates a hub at Washington’s Reagan National Airport, where rain is expected to switch to snow early Thursday.
Southwest had canceled about 255 of its Thursday flights -- or about 6% of its daily schedule -- as of 4:50 p.m. ET, according to FlightAware's count.
United had grounded about 215 of its mainline flights for Thursday, though cancellations on its regional affiliates could double that total. The snow-related complications follow what was already a rough Thursday for United. The Chicago Tribune reported the carrier suffered nationwide delays Wednesday because of "a systemwide computer problem affecting flight plans." The issue didn't lead to a massive wave of cancellations, but it did snarl United's punctuality. About one out of every three United flights was operating behind schedule on Wednesday, according to FlightAware.
Delta had cancelled about 350 flights from late Wednesday into Thursday, with the "bulk" of that total coming for Thursday, spokesman Michael Thomas said. Most of the cancellations so far have been on Delta's Delta Connection regional affiliates. Delta operates hubs at LaGuardia and JFK airports and it has a significant presence at Boston Logan, so those cancellation totals could grow if the storm severely hampers operating conditions at those airports.
Overall, cancellation tallies across all airlines appeared likely grow as the storm forecast became more certain.
Nearly all big airlines flying to airports in the storm’s path were waiving change fees. Scroll down to links to the weather waiver policies in place at big U.S. airlines:
Delta Air Lines
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YOUR TAKE: Snow hard feelings: Winter is here and it's beautiful