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SURPRISE! ANOTHER BAD WEEK TO FLY
By Joe Brancatelli
January 27, 2011 -- We're only a month into winter and several East Coast cities have already surpassed their annual snowfall amounts. It's been brutal on travel, brutal on our morale and murder on our schedules.
Of course, snow and inconvenience are nothing compared to the horror and death in Moscow on Monday, when a huge bomb ripped through the arrivals hall and killed dozens of travelers. Whether the perpetrators were terrorists (as Russian officials would have us believe) or rebels using terror tactics (as others believe), the effect was the same: Innocents died.
This was how the week unfolded. And, as I always say, this stuff reads like a Pinter play: backwards.
BAD TODAY, BETTER TOMORROW
With five to 20 inches of snow whacking the Boston-Washington corridor on Wednesday evening and Thursday morning, we had a worst-case kind of day. Given the 2,500 or so cancellations today at the region's eight major airports, there wasn't much moving, especially early in the day. (You can examine the specific cancellations at each airport on the chart with statistics drawn from the formidable resources of the good folks at FlightStats.com)
The good news? Friday should be a much better day, with only around 100 cancellations posted so far. And the weather, while cold, should be calmer, helping the airlines regain a sense of balance. Of course, that won't help our nerves or balance. Any week that starts with a brutal bombing at a major global airport can rarely improve. And the week didn't.
4pm ET 1/27/11, THURSDAY
FROM A MEMBER IN MOSCOW
A JoeSentMe member currently based in Moscow sent me a note that he sent to family and friends. He graciously allowed me to offer some excerpts to you:
"The bombing here in Moscow, less than a year after the Metro bombing, goes right to the heart of the issue of security. If it can happen in Moscow, where there are more police, secret militias and security agents than anywhere in the world outside of Israel, it can happen in any country. …
"The airport bombing was timed to coincide with the arrival of international passengers from Italy, England and Germany. One of the aims of the terrorists is to prevent events like the Winter Olympics and the World Cup from being successful. They hope to engender fear and a sense of foreboding on the part of international visitors to Russia, thinking that the Russians will negotiate with them to protect their economic interest and their sense of Russian pride. I personally do not think that this will be a successful strategy, but I think we can look for more and more of these incidents the closer we get to these major international events. …
"Since March, when the bomb went off in the Metro, there have been waves of anti-Muslim attacks in Moscow. Roving gangs of skinheads and other disenfranchised youth have violently attacked anyone who looks different. Very few prosecutions have taken place, which of course gives a green light for expanded violence. …
"There seems to be no evidence of any tightening of security around embassies, train stations, Metros, banks or other public places. I walked all around for 90 minutes and everything and everyone seemed quite normal. The most dangerous things that I saw on my walk were icicles hanging from the top of tall buildings. Last week a six year old boy was killed by an icicle falling onto his head. … "
10am ET 1/27/11, THURSDAY
A TALE OF WOE AND SNOW
A tale of woe--and snow--from a JoeSentMe member trying to get home to the New York area from San Francisco yesterday and today: "Due to take the Continental 3:50pm home to Newark. Delayed to 5:08pm. Aircraft came in, about to board, then a power failure hits the Newark tower. Cancelled. Rebooked to the 7:30am flight today. Cancelled. I finally get through [to the Continental reservation center] and they suggest a routing on United through ORD. I say OK. But before she tickets, I look at FlightStats.com and Weather.com. Snow predicted for Chicago all day. No thanks. Now I'm on UA metal through Denver. So here's hoping the 5:25pm departure from Denver makes in into Newark. A 250-pound guy in middle seats all the way. Woo-hoo!"
7:30am ET 1/27/11, THURSDAY
THE NORTHEAST SURRENDERS
This just in to the vast worldwide JoeSentMe newsroom: The Northeast officially surrendered last night in the 2011 War of the Snow.
Between five (Baltimore-Washington area) and 18 inches of snow (New York-Philadelphia area) fell yesterday and overnight and it is still snowing in Boston. Very little is moving: Roads are clogged with abandoned cars and 400,000 people are without power in the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan area. Public transportation around the region is a mess.
Oh, other kinds of travel? Fugghedaboutit.
New York/Kennedy Airport is closed until 10am. Newark Airport is closed until 9am for arrivals and noon for departures. The other airports in the I-95 Corridor are open, but only by definition. There are already massive cancellations and delays. Amtrak has suspended service on New York-Boston trains.
Got it? You're probably not moving today if you're leaving from the East or trying to get in.
All of the airlines have reaccommodation policies in place for today and some have extended them for flights tomorrow. In other words, assuming no more snow, it'll take through the weekend to get back on schedule.
And it gets worse: There are heavy delays in Chicago, where it is snowing. And the I-70 Corridor in the Midwest is also looking for a big snowfall tonight.
Bottom line: You have official sanction to pull the covers back over your head and sleep another hour.
1pm ET 1/26/11, WEDNESDAY
NOW IT'S GETTING UGLY
The Eastern snowstorm has gotten ugly. Fast. About 1,500 flights have been cancelled and those that are still scheduled to operate are facing titanic delays at several airports. At New York/LaGuardia and Newark the posted delay is now 5 hours. It's 2.5 hours in Philadelphia.
Here are the specifics on cancellations to this moment:
+ Baltimore/Washington: 56 cancels
+ Washington/Dulles: 160 cancels
+ Washington/National: 145 cancels
+ Philadelphia: 303 cancels
+ Newark: 220 cancels
+ New York/LGA: 355 cancels
+ New York/JFK: 150 cancels
+ Boston/Logan: 100 cancels
The worse news: The worst part of the storm has yet to impact most areas of the I-95 corridor. This is going to get much worse before it gets better. Tonight, especially, will be bad.
8:45am ET 1/26/11, WEDNESDAY
BOY, THIS SNOW IS ANNOYING!
It's time for another the-snow-is-making-travel-even-more-annoying-than-usual update.
Although the weather geeks have backed off on their most dire predictions about today, tonight's and tomorrow's East Coast storm, the airlines aren't waiting for disaster. All the major carriers serving the East have issued reaccommodation policies for today and tomorrow and the cancellations have begun.
About 600 flights around the East today have already been dumped, most of them for this afternoon and evening. Here's the breakdown (and thanks, as always, to the folks at FlightStats.com):
+ Washington/Dulles: 102 cancels
+ Washington/National: 100 cancels
+ Baltimore/Washington: 24 cancels
+ Philadelphia: 65 cancels
+ Newark: 76 cancels
+ New York/LGA: 132 cancels
+ New York/JFK: 108 cancels
+ Boston/Logan: 48 cancels
I expect those numbers to rise as the snow system actually overspreads the area. In other words, if you're scheduled to fly tonight or tomorrow morning, you're in the red zone. Consider your options carefully and have your back-up plans in place.
The good news: While it is snowing in the Tennessee Valley and the border states, the weather in the South has mostly been about rain. That means there have been delays, but minimal cancellations, in the key hubs of Atlanta, Charlotte and Memphis.
The better news: Know all those rich and famous folks gathered in Davos for this week's World Economic Forum? They just had a foot of snow dumped on them. Of course, they may just call off the deep-thinking sessions and hit the slopes. But, still, given this winter, take your cold comfort where you find it…
4pm ET 1/24/11, MONDAY
A BOMBING AT MOSCOW/DOMODEDOVO
I wanted to update you on the fatal bombing at Domodedovo Airport in Moscow. First, the best feed to monitor RT, the live, English-language Russian news station, is here. You might also check with The Moscow Times, an English-language newspaper, which is located here.
What do we know? Remembering that a lot of this information is coming from Russian news sources, which are not noted for on-the-fly accuracy or for their independence from the government, here is what seems to be true:
About 35 are dead and 170 wounded from the bombing at Domodedovo.
The bomb went off at about 4:30pm Moscow time (1:30pm GMT) in the arrivals hall. There is now some dispute on whether the bomb detonated inside security (in the luggage-collection area) or outside security (in the waiting area where taxis and families meet arriving passengers).
RT is reporting the bomb was carried by at least one "suicide bomber with a suicide vest." It is also reporting that the "remains of a suicide bomber has been found on the scene." That information is not independently confirmed by other sources, however.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has ordered increased security at all Russian airports and transit stations. One RT reporter at Domodedovo says there are now more police, military, security people and emergency responders on the scene than passengers.
After a brief closure, Domodedovo is apparently operating again and there are takeoffs and arrivals, albeit with substantial delays. Many flights that were en route to Domodedovo, however, have been diverted to Moscow's two other facilities, Sheremetyevo and Vnukovo. Domodedovo is Moscow's largest airport and handles about 22 million travelers a year. As many as 80 Russian domestic and international airlines operate from the facility. Domodedovo's English-language website is here.
If your schedule includes Moscow for the rest of the week, check with your airline to see if your flight is still scheduled. You might also want to consider deferring your travel as Russian airport officials sort out security protocols. Also, pay attention to the tone of the reporting and commentary originating from Moscow and Russia. Commentators are already adopting two primary themes:
This is probably the work of Chechen terrorists, who have proven that they can strike almost at will throughout Russia. (Chechnya has been fighting for its independence from Russia since the break-up of the Soviet Union. There have been two wars between Russia and Chechen separatists, most of whom are Muslim.)
"The West" (which is almost Russian code for the United States) must accept that the terrorism in Russia is no different than terrorism elsewhere in the world. As one commentator on RT said just a few moments ago, Russia feels "The West" has been slow to accept that Chechen and other separatist movements in the former Soviet Union are intricately tied to international terrorism. An RT reporter in the channel's Washington bureau raged against Western news agencies that called the Chechens "rebels" instead of "terrorists."
3pm ET 1/23/11, SUNDAY
DON'T BLAME THE MESSENGER
Don't blame the messenger, okay? I don't like writing these warning notes ANY time, but especially not on a Sunday. Still…
You should know that the weather experts are predicting another really miserable week of weather that will negatively impact travel around the South, the MidAtlantic States and New England.
The storm seems headed to the South on Tuesday and it will mostly bring heavy rain. Unless, of course, the temperatures plummet, and we could have a rerun of the ice and snowstorm that shut down the region for several days earlier this month.
On Wednesday, a monstrously large storm could cover the I-95 corridor with rain and freezing rain and sock the inland areas with a foot or more of snow in near-blizzard conditions. Unless, of course, it's all blizzard all the time everywhere.
Obviously, no one is right about the weather 48-72 hours out. This could be much ado about nothing, but, given that this has already been an awful winter, what are the chances that we'll catch a break?
What should you do to be prepared? Uh, well, short of being aware of developing situations and building as much flexibility as you can into your schedule, not much. Obviously, if you don't have to travel in the South or East this week, it would be great if you could reschedule your flights for, oh, April… But if you must travel, be ready:
Sign up for your carriers' instant alerts. They have been very helpful in some recent storms.
Make sure your carrier has your mobile phone number and your profile is up-to-date. A lot of carriers have been able to reaccommodate travelers and alert them in advance of a storm when they have been able to reach you via mobile device.
If you've got an itinerary that could be serviced by Amtrak, switch to the train. Amtrak hasn't been perfect in these storms, of course, but they've borne up somewhat better than the airlines.
Have a list of hotels at/near to the airports you're using this week. You may need to get your head on a bed if your flight unexpectedly cancels.
Keep in touch with Weather.com. They are reliably alarmist, but, this winter, they've been right every time they raised a warning.
Meanwhile, enjoy your Sunday. And even if you're not a football fan, both games today are interesting. I mean, Packers-Bears? How can't you at least dip into that? Especially since the temperatures will be frigid, the winds blowing and the ghosts of Halas and Lombardi will inhabit Soldier Field.
Me? I'm going to drown my sorrows in seltzer and think about getting a more uplifting job. Like writing about the economy…or going back to the obit desk.
11:45pm ET 1/20/11, THURSDAY
OKAY, THIS IS GETTING INSANE...
Okay, this is getting insane. As another snowstorm rushes to the East Coast airports, Friday is going to be an ugly day to fly.
It's already snowing and airlines are pre-canceling flights on Friday morning with gusto. About 170 flights have been dumped tomorrow at Boston/Logan, most of them before noon. About 80 have been cancelled at New York/Kennedy and about 80 at Newark. At New York/LaGuardia, at least 200 flights, most operated by commuter carriers, have been scrubbed. In Philadelphia, about 60 flights are off. In Washington, a combined 70 flights are dumped at National and Dulles. (As usual, these helpful stats come from the helpful folks at FlightStats.com.)
Airlines have issued reaccommodation policies, so if you're planning to fly tomorrow, especially in the morning, you might want to rethink your plans. And if you are scheduled to fly tomorrow evening, ask about the status of the aircraft that will service your flight. Cancellations may pile up in the afternoon even if the weather clears because airlines won't fly aircraft into snow-challenged airports.
It's snowing heavily at the vast worldwide JoeSentMe headquarters in the Hudson Valley. But that's okay, the new snow will make a nice cover for the ice that fell earlier this week and has been hanging around since the temperature hasn't risen above freezing so far this year.
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ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.
THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.
This column is Copyright © 2011 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2011 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.