With new weather coming, airlines take no chances
New York • Major airlines are scrapping flights in and out of the New York area ahead of the second significant storm in little more than a week.
United and American plan to suspend operations in the region late Wednesday. Other airlines are encouraging passengers to reschedule by allowing them to do it for free.
Airlines are quick to cancel flights ahead of major storms to avoid stranding aircraft and crews. Doing so also lessens storm-related financial losses. As of noon Eastern, about 1,200 flights had been canceled for Wednesday, according to flight tracker FlightAware. About 40 percent of those are at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.
Superstorm Sandy last week caused more than 20,000 flights to canceled, making it the second most disruptive storm in the last 7 years. The latest storm is weaker than Sandy, but still carries high winds, a mix of rain and snow and the potential for more flooding. Sandy flooded some airport runways when it hit last Monday.
United, the world's largest airline, suspended most service in New York starting at noon. It warns that the bad weather will likely cause more delays and cancellations throughout the Northeast.
American Airlines is shutting down in New York at 3 p.m. It stopped flights to and from Philadelphia at noon.
Most other airlines, including Delta Air Lines Inc. and JetBlue Airways Corp., are asking passengers to reschedule their Northeast flights for a later date. They're waiving the usual change fees of up to $150.
JetBlue, which is the biggest domestic airline at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport, said its operations had just gotten back to normal Monday.
There's a dollars and cents reason that airlines cancel big swaths of their schedules well ahead of bad weather. Cancellations aren't as expensive for airlines as one might think.
Most passengers eventually reschedule, so the airline still collects the fare. And if flights are canceled, the airline doesn't have to pay the crew or the cost of burning fuel. Pilots and flight attendants only get paid once the main cabin doors close.
Many passengers on canceled flights are often squeezed onto another flight, which improves the airline's efficiency
Airlines also are not required to pay for hotel rooms, food or other expenses for passengers stuck overnight due to the weather, as many stranded by Sandy learned the hard way.
As the current storm moves up the Atlantic coast from Florida, it now is expected to veer farther offshore than earlier projections had indicated.
Storm surges along the coasts of New Jersey and New York are expected to reach perhaps 3 feet, only half to a third of what Sandy caused last week. High winds, which could reach 65 mph, could extend inland throughout the day, potentially stalling power restoration efforts or causing further outages.