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AND IT'S NOT EVEN WINTER YET...
By Joe Brancatelli
The official start of winter is still several weeks away and yet here we are shivering, with our flights cancelled and delayed. A barrage of winter-like storms has messed with the nation's air-transportation system since the week before Thanksgiving. Ice and snow have hit the flight network hard, particularly in Dallas, where residents are always shocked--shocked!--that they get ice and snowstorms. A brutal winter system has raked Northern Europe. Here is how we've covered things. Like a blog, a Pinter play or one particular episode of Seinfeld, read backward since the latest item is on top.
12/10/13, 8:15AM ET, TUESDAY
HALF THE NATION'S FLIGHTS RUN LATE
Time to admit it. It's winter, regardless of what the calendar says.
Today is going to be a difficult day for travel in the East. Thanks to a wintry mix, cancellations and delays are already piling up at airports from Washington to Boston. Several are in a ground stop. But things will improve later today, according to the weather geeks. Leave extra time and, generally speaking, avoid the Baltimore-Washington part of the East Coast Corridor. It cannot handle snow. Federal offices and schools are already closed in the region.
In Dallas/Fort Worth, which has essentially been out of business for the last week, the ice is abating and there are many fewer cancellations today by American Airlines and American Eagle. But bottom line: Like a roach motel, don't go in because you might not get out.
Yesterday, as you may have noticed, was horrid. Only 52 percent of the nation's flights ran on-time. According to FlightStats.com, that means approximately 10,800 delays out of 22,000 flights. That's atop nearly 2,100 cancellations, more than 850 at American and American Eagle alone.
A stray note: The four airports with the most cancellations yesterday--DFW, Chicago/O'Hare, Philadelphia and Washington/National--are all hubs for American and US Airways, which officially merged yesterday. And for all the hoopla and media lapdog attention surrounding the merger yesterday, not a word was spoken by the new American management about the tens of thousands of their passengers being inconvenienced. Well, that's not actually true: Doug Parker did note that the days of trouble wouldn't substantially impact earnings. In other words, if you want to know what this merger is about, you now know officially. You don't matter. Only your money.
A final note. A fire at Terminal B at Houston/Bush Intercontinental Sunday played havoc with schedules there on Monday. There were 55 cancellations and more than 275 delays, almost all due to United Airlines (surprise!) not being able to react to the trouble at Terminal B.
12/09/13, 9:30AM ET, MONDAY
HUNDREDS OF CANCELLATIONS ON MERGER DAY
Today is going to be another brutal day to travel, especially if you thought things would be fixed at Dallas/Fort Worth and with American Airlines.
American and its commuter carrier, American Eagle, have already cancelled more than 700 flights today, most of them at DFW. The ice lingers on and last night there was a "freezing fog" warning. And without putting too fine a point on it, today is the day that American Airlines and US Airways officially merge. If you want to consider it an omen, I wouldn't argue with you.
(Speaking of which, do not listen to these mass-media stories claiming the merger starts with labor peace. It does NOT. There's the appearance of peace, but the reality is otherwise. Flight attendants at American and US Airways are already squabbling, US Airways mechanics are unhappy and pilots at US Airways haven't been happy since the merger with America West.)
Meanwhile, back at the travel-today front, there'll continue to be scattered issues nationwide thanks to yesterday's rain/snow/ice storm. There are already notable cancellations and delays at Chicago/O'Hare, Philadelphia and Washington/National and Washington/Dulles airports.
Oh, and by the way, in case you haven't noticed, it's unseasonably cold most anywhere except South Florida.
For the record: Yesterday was one of the worst travel days of the year: FlightStats.com recorded 3,076 cancellations and more than 8,500 delays. American (621 cancels) and American Eagle (528) led the list, of course, but ExpressJet (it flies for American, Delta and United) wasn't far behind. It registered 367 cancellations and more than 1,000 delays. Airports in Philadelphia and Washington were hit nearly as hard as Dallas/Fort Worth. (Those who watched the Philadelphia Eagles game got a first-hand look at conditions there.)
12/08/13, 10AM ET, SUNDAY
I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN 30 YEARS AGO...
Decades ago, after my first business trip to Dallas, I drove onto the LBJ Freeway headed to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. It was misting a little, sleeting a little. Truly nothing to fear. But Metroplex drivers were in a tizzy. Needless to say, I missed my flight (on Eastern) and was rebooked onto Braniff, the first and only time I flew the original by that name. I remember a very nice BBQ sandwich for lunch.
I tell you that now because, 30 years on, the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and DFW still can't handle anything like winter. A modest (although not insignificant) ice storm, one of many the city has had over the years, has shut the place down. Tens of thousands are without power still. Drivers are stranded on roads. Big city events (like today's scheduled Marathon and Christmas festivities) have been cancelled.
And, oh yeah, DFW and American Airlines are essentially out of business, too. Just 62 percent of AA's flights operated on-time yesterday and a third of its schedule, most into and out of DFW, was cancelled. Thirty-five percent of American Eagle's flights were scrubbed yesterday.
Today is shaping up as little better. According to FlightStats.com at 10:30am ET, American has already cancelled nearly 600 flights. American Eagle has dumped almost 200. DFW already has registered more than 850 cancellations of takeoffs and landings.
Speaking of cities that treat a little bad weather as potential Armageddon, Washington is in a tizzy because a wintry mix is falling. About 200 takeoffs and landings have been scrubbed at Dulles and 70 have been dumped at National. Expect it to get worse later today.
Meanwhile, expect the same storm to head to the Philadelphia and New York Metro areas later today. There will be some long delays--although it looks like the early bank of international departures will get out relatively unscathed this evening. New York is better able to handle this stuff--but, of course, there'll be more obvious whining and complaining about it! Tomorrow morning's early departures and arrivals may have some heavy delays, too.
12/07/13, 10AM ET, SATURDAY
BETTER (ALMOST) ANYWHERE THAN DFW
The snow and ice system that the Weather Channel (and no one else) calls Cleon has done serious damage. Friday was even worse than Thursday. According to FlightStats.com, only about 66 percent of the domestic system ran on-time and there was an eye-popping 10 percent cancellation rate. (Anything above 1 percent is considered poor.) Worst hit yesterday was Dallas/Fort Worth and its hub carrier, American Airlines and its American Eagle commuter. More than 44 percent of American's flights were cancelled. About 40 percent of American Eagle flights were scrubbed. And if you're stuck at DFW, there are precious few airport hotel rooms available as some travelers have been waiting two days to escape.
(Thankfully, I must say the vast majority of JoeSentMe members seem to have booked around DFW this week. And for those of you waiting around a DFW airport club, what can I say? I warned you...)
Today's not looking that much better, either. As of 9:30am ET, American had already dumped 469 flights. American Eagle has cancelled 233 more. With three days of this chaos, American's system is in shambles. Double-check (and then check again) if you have an American flight, regardless of its origin or destination. Crews and aircraft are out of position and it'll take a few more days (assuming better weather, of course) to get American back to what passes as normal.
Meanwhile, an air traffic control failure is playing havoc with traffic into and out of London. More than 100 flights at Heathrow have been cancelled today. There are also many delays at Gatwick and Stansted. The good news: the North Sea storm that battered Northern Germany, Scotland and the Southern parts of Scandinavia this week has passed and things are getting back to normal.
But, wait, there's more. Literally off-the-charts pollution this week caused serious delays and cancellations in Shanghai. Cars were ordered off the roads and schools were mostly closed, too. Today is slightly better in that the pollution levels have fallen back to a measurable quantity--albeit to "very unhealthy" levels. Beijing is at "unhealthy" levels. A cold front with high winds is due tomorrow and that should clear this week's crisis. But if you travel to China frequently, you know these pollution fogs have reached intolerable levels. This isn't going away any time soon.
(Incidentally, Bloomberg News reported sales of air purifiers jumped 70 percent this week in Shanghai and a friend tells me that government officials were confiscating charcoal barbecues.)
Finally, be aware that tomorrow and Monday could be very difficult for travelers in the Mid-Atlantic states. A snow and ice storm--the Weather Channel geeks are calling this one Dion--may hit Washington tomorrow into Monday morning. And since Washington shuts down at the mere mention of snow, you could have trouble if you're due to fly from Washington/National or Dulles.
12/06/13, 10AM ET, FRIDAY
SO MUCH FOR DODGING BULLETS
Enjoying this week's weather? That bullet that we dodged last week for Thanksgiving has hit us straight on this week. Yesterday, for example, one in three domestic flights ran late and nearly 6 percent of the system was cancelled entirely. (As usual, thanks to the folks at FlightStats.com for the statistics.) Dallas/Fort Worth and American Airlines are taking the brunt of the ice and the cancellations. And it's not just domestic woes. A brutal storm in Northern Europe brought hurricane-force winds and cancellations across the continent. And in Shanghai, the pollution is literally off the charts and hundreds of flights have been cancelled. Maybe tomorrow, wherever you are, just pull the covers over your head and sleep in.
12/05/13, 2:15PM ET, THURSDAY
IT'S BEGINNING TO LOOK A LOT LIKE AN ICE STORM
An ice/rain/snow storm is expected to pound major cities between Dallas and Western New York starting later today and into the weekend.
American Airlines and its American Eagle commuter carrier have already cancelled more than 600 flights into and out of Dallas/Fort Worth today and tomorrow. American and several other carriers have also issued travel-waiver policies of varying generosity and flexibility.
If you pay attention to stuff like this, The Weather Channel has named the storm Cleon and is predicting everything but fire and brimstone as a result of the inclement weather.
Here are the travel waivers I've seen so far:
US AIRWAYS: http://www.usairways.com/TravelCenter/Advisories.aspx
VIRGIN AMERICA: http://www.virginamerica.com/news.do?int=news_alertbart_travelAdvisory
11/27/13, 10:30PM ET, WEDNESDAY
PLENTY TO BE THANKFUL FOR...
Another thing to be thankful for as you celebrate tomorrow: As bad as this week's weather has been nationwide, the system held up. There were delays (especially today in the Mid-Atlantic), but cancellations were surprisingly light. So I'll assume that you are where you want to be for Thanksgiving and Hanukkah. I wish you the best of both holidays.
11/24/13, 6PM ET, SUNDAY
BAD WEATHER AND BAD TRAVELERS AHEAD
A pre-Thanksgiving storm was expected to rake much of the nation and destroy travel patterns on some of the busiest days of the year. The busiest days of the year when the least experienced travelers were expected to clog the nation's airports, train stations and roads. Click here for the coverage.
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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 © 2013 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2013 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.