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HAPPY NEW BUSINESS-TRAVEL YEAR! NOT!
By Joe Brancatelli
So how was your holiday? Quiet because you didn't have to be on the road until the new year? Well, surprise. Meet the new business-travel year, same as the old business-travel year: lots of snow, cancellations, delays and airline double-talk when it comes to their supposed travel waivers. If there was a saving grace about this storm, it's that it began on New Year's Eve and played out during the post-New Year's period when many fewer of us were planning to be flying again. Here is how we have covered things. Like a blog, a Pinter play or one particular episode of Seinfeld, read backward since the latest item is on top.
1/10/14, 10PM ET, FRIDAY
SURPRISE! UNITED SUCKED DURING THE STORMS, TOO
JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines got more widespread immediate publicity for their respective storm stories, but folks are beginning to realize that United Airlines performed at least as badly. A financial reporter for TheStreet.com tells her tale of a 12-hour wait to connect with United on a flight change. Bloomberg is reporting that United's pilot-scheduling computer broke down in the middle of the storm. And FlightView.com says that United cancelled more than 9,000 flights during the storm, a total of 21 percent of the carrier's flight schedule. Only JetBlue, which shut its Boston and New York/Kennedy hubs, cancelled more.
1/10/14, 9AM ET, FRIDAY
THEY'RE SORRY ABOUT THE FREEZE UP IN TORONTO
The folks who run Toronto's Pearson Airport apologized for an airport shutdown on Tuesday, January 7. "I think we dropped the ball and we'll fix it," Greater Toronto Airport Authority chief executive Howard Eng admits. The 8-hour ground stop, as temperatures dropped to 25 below (Celsius), caused more than half of the airport's flights to be scrubbed.
1/10/14, 7AM ET, FRIDAY
THE (RELATIVE) CALM AFTER THE STORMS
JetBlue Airways operated at 29 percent on-time on January 2, 23 percent on January 3, 15 percent on January 4, 11 percent on January 5 and 22 percent on January 6, the day it shut its New York/Kennedy and Boston/Logan hubs.
Chautauqua Airlines, a subsidiary of Republic Airways that flies as a commuter carrier for the legacy lines, cancelled 72 percent of its schedule on January 7.
On January 5 and 6, about 30 percent of the nation's flights were deemed "excessively" delayed, which means more than 44 minutes late.
1/9/14, 3:45PM ET, THURSDAY
SOUTHWEST MELTS DOWN IN THE CHICAGO SNOW
My colleague Lewis Lazare at the Chicago Business Journal has been all over the story of Southwest Airlines' meltdown in the Midway Airport snow on January 2. As you may recall, Southwest stranded 16 aircraft on the tarmac for at least four hours. But as Lazare notes, Southwest has also been having major problems with luggage handling at Midway. He also tracks down a passenger who tells his personal luggage story. Worse, the situation wasn't cleared up a week after the stranding. And Southwest is now going to war with the baggage handlers.
1/9/14, 10:45AM ET, THURSDAY
TEN TIPS FOR WINTER TRAVEL
So with hubs shutting down and more than 20,000 cancellations in a week, how do you cope with winter travel? My Seat 2B column today offers up ten ideas to keep yourself sane and organized. We can't control the weather. We can't make the airlines better. But we can operate more effectively in how we plan, book and arrange our winter travel. Click here for the column.
1/6/14, 1:45PM ET, MONDAY
DOWN GOES JETBLUE
Travel conditions continue to spiral downward thanks to what seem like endless storms from the Rockies to the Atlantic, Arctic cold and, frankly, some inept airline preparations and recovery attempts.
For starters, if you're trying to reach an airline's call center, you're out of luck. All of the big airlines are reporting ridiculously long delays--and even that is understating it. A Bloomberg News reporter says she spent 12 hours on hold waiting for help from United Airlines over the weekend. More likely, however, the systems will just hang up on you. If you can't get it done online or via your travel agent, the airline call centers are a dead end.
Secondly, today has been a nightmare. FlightStats.com reports that 4,000 flights have already been cancelled. And there'll be many more to come. FlightAware.com says that 65-70 percent of the departures/arrivals at Indianapolis have been scrubbed today. The figure is around 60 percent at Chicago/O'Hare, 50 percent in Cleveland and about 50 percent at many other smaller airports in the Midwest. Conditions are bad in the Southeast, too. In fact, nothing east of the Rockies is performing anywhere near normal.
And JetBlue Airways says that it is winding down operations at its New York/Kennedy and Boston/Logan hubs and will be totally shut down by about 5pm this evening. It won't resume flight service at those two airports until 10am Tuesday. And while you can criticize JetBlue for announcing such a shutdown, it frankly won't be much better at Delta, United, American or the other carriers with hubs in New York. Temperatures are plummeting and icing is going to be an increasing problem as they try to push out the evening banks of flights. It's going to be very ugly tonight and an absolute madhouse tomorrow morning when temperatures will be at or below zero in the East.
As I've already explained several times, with the system scrambled since New Year's Day or before, it'll take at least through this weekend to recover. Planes and crews are out of position, out of patience and, basically, out of luck.
Clearly, the best way to handle the situation if you can is to cancel your travel plans for the week. Or stay in the West. But even in the West, remember that many flights there are extensions of service that originates in the East. Good weather in the West won't help if the planes aren't there to take you where you're scheduled to go.
To help you plan, consult the following pages:
FLIGHTSTATS.COM GLOBAL CANCELLATION & DELAY TRACKER
FLIGHTAWARE.COM LIVE FLIGHT DELAY & CANCELLATION STATISTICS
FLIGHTAWARE.COM WORLDWIDE AIRLINE DELAYS & AIRPORT STATUS
FLIGHTAWARE.COM MISERY MAP
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE COUNTY-LEVEL ALERTS MAP
1/5/14, 11:45PM ET, SUNDAY
SUNDAY, BLOODY SUNDAY
It's been Sunday, Bloody Sunday on the road. Monday? I suggest sheltering in place because it seems that it'll be worse than today.
According to FlightStats.com, more than 4,200 flights have been cancelled today. That's about 20 percent of the nationwide system, an astonishing number when you consider that a 2 percent cancellation rate is considered high. Add that to more than 10,500 delays and it's madness out there.
Any line you can think of--at the airport, waiting on hold--are insanely long. As wave after wave of winter storms and life-threateningly cold weather hit from the Rockies right through to the East Coast, the nation's entire airline system is under siege.
According to FlightStats.com, more than 1,900 flights already have been cancelled for Monday. By the end of the day, when the insanely cold weather hits the big airports in the East, chances are delays will skyrocket.
The problem is that planes and flight crews are scrambled and out of position nationwide. Assuming no more truly awful weather (and that is a BIG assumption), it'll take at least until next weekend before a semblance of order could be restored.
As I said yesterday, if there's any way you can reschedule your flying, do it. The system is in chaos and there's not much any of us--or, frankly, even the airlines--can do about it.
Meanwhile, even if you do choose to travel this week, getting to airports could be a challenge. As you can see at the National Weather Service county-level map (http://www.weather.gov), two-thirds of the nation is under some sort of winter alert: ice, winds, heavy rains, snows, record-breaking cold.
Especially dangerous conditions will exist in the East. The weather is warming and will be temperate on Monday morning (near 60 degrees in some places). But then temperatures will plummet to near or below zero by the end of the day, meaning black ice on the roads and power lines and trees collapsing from the weight. That'll make road travel treacherous on Tuesday into Wednesday.
1/5/14, 9:30AM ET, SUNDAY
CHAOS HERE, THERE AND EVERYWHERE
It's chaotic out there.
+New York/Kennedy is currently closed for arrivals and departures. Apparently runways iced up overnight and a Delta Connection flight slid off a runway. It'll be a few hours before flights can resume. And, again, remember, if your carrier's inbound flight from Europe doesn't get in this morning/early afternoon, chances are your outbound tonight will cancel. Check before going to the airport.
+ There are two-hour minimum delays into/out of Philadelphia.
+ There's been a ground stop at Charlotte/Douglas, but that has been lifted. Expect heavy ongoing delays.
+ Chicago/O'Hare is a disaster today with about 1,000 inbound/outbound departures already cancelled. United, for example, has already scrubbed 114 of 116 scheduled departures this morning.
+ Nationwide, there are already nearly 2,000 cancellations and it'll get much worse today as the storm whacks the Midwest and then heads east.
My advice? Stay home. Reschedule. But I told you that last night.
1/4/14, 10:15PM ET, SATURDAY
GRIM--AND GETTING WORSE
The news continues to be grim--and it's getting worse very quickly.
After another approximately 50 percent on-time day yesterday (Friday, January 3), today is another brutal day. According to FlightStats.com, we've already had 1,800+ cancellations and 9,600 delays nationwide.
Today's cause? Another storm hitting the Midwest and the Ohio Valley. Moreover, aircraft and flight crews nationwide are out of position from the bad weather earlier in the week.
Chicago/O'Hare, Denver and New York/Kennedy are particularly a mess today. JetBlue today is a nightmare, with only about 20 percent of its flights operating on-time after running about 20 percent on-time yesterday. Southwest is hardly better today, at about 25 percent on-time after doing about the same yesterday. United today is under 50 percent on-time for takeoffs and landings.
Needless to say, if you're traveling tomorrow and Monday, you're going to have to build in a lot of extra time to wait out these delays.
Oh, and it gets worse. What weather geeks call a Polar Vortex is bearing down on the nation. Starting tomorrow (Sunday, January 5) in the Midwest and Plains states and then moving into the East on Tuesday, temperatures will be at or below historic lows. That's guaranteed to slow down the system even further because there'll surely be higher than normal mechanical issues with aircraft.
If you look at the county-by-county nationwide weather alert map from the National Weather Service (http://www.weather.gov/), you see bad news almost everywhere for the days ahead: snow, brutal cold, high winds, freeze watches.
Now I know many of us are heading back on the road in the next few days for the first time this year. My advice? Try and reschedule if you can. Simply put, the entire nation's airline system is essentially out of whack. My best guess is that the system doesn't get back to anything like normal until late next week.
Another potentially complicating factor: New crew-rest rules went into effect this week. Boiled down to basics, the rules require airlines to ensure their crews (and especially pilots) are getting enough rest. The carriers have had quite some time to prepare for the new rules, of course, but you can't dismiss the possibility that they've simply fouled it up. We may never know because the weather is making such a hash of things.
One more time: If you can reschedule your travel next week, do it. The time and aggravation you save are your own.
1/3/14, 10:30AM ET, FRIDAY
SNOWBOUND IN CHICAGO
Many passengers were stuck on the runways at Chicago's Midway Airport when Southwest landed flights without gates available for the aircraft. More details from the Chicago Tribune and the CBS Chicago stations.
1/3/14, 9:15AM ET, FRIDAY
APPLY YOUR BUSINESS-TRAVEL PHILOSOPHY HERE
From the philosophical glass half-full/half-empty file: FlightStats.com reports that only around half of yesterday's 23,666 flights (53.8 percent) arrived on-time. About 11 percent (2,805) of flights were cancelled. Worst of all, about 25 percent of the nation's flights were categorized as excessively delayed, meaning more than 45 minutes late. Among the largest carriers, JetBlue Airways was hardest hit with just a 29 percent on-time rating. No surprise since JetBlue's home hub is New York/Kennedy and its second-busiest airport is Boston/Logan. The absolute worst, however, was Shuttle America, a United Express commuter carrier. Only 27.6 percent of its flights were on-time.
1/3/14, 8:30AM ET, FRIDAY
OPERATIVE WORDS: CAN'T AND DON'T
A quick update on the state of travel in the Northeast: The operative words are don't and can't.
Although the terminals are open, New York/Kennedy Airport was closed about 6:15 this morning. Don't expect much flight activity until after noon. And remember: if incoming flights from Europe don't get in early this afternoon, there'll be heavy cancellations outbound tonight regardless of weather and conditions.
At Newark, there's a ground stop so no flights are moving there just now. The AirTrain service is down.
New York/LaGuardia is open but don't expect much activity there.
Some roads in the New York City area have had overnight closures. Long Island roads are especially bad.
Boston/Logan, as it always does, claims to be open, but there haven't been any flights there since last night. Don't expect much action before noon.
T.F. Green in Providence is showing its first departure at around 10 am after earlier flights have been dumped.
Philadelphia is open, but operating with delays and cancellations. Washington-area airports are open, but expect delays and cancellations. Amtrak is operating in the Northeast Corridor, but there are heavy delays.
If you want to do it by the numbers, FlightStats.com is already reporting 1,998 cancellations so far today. All day yesterday there were about 3,200 cancellations and 10,200 delays.
And it continues to be windy, with light snow, and brutally cold throughout the Northeast. It is a bracing 5 degrees here at the vast, worldwide JoeSentMe headquarters in the Hudson Valley. It's much colder in areas further north.
1/2/14, 4:15PM ET, THURSDAY
THE GOOD NEWS? MAYBE YOU'RE NOT FLYING.
Here's the good news on the winter storm that the Weather Channel (but no one sane) is calling Hercules: Not too many business travelers are on the road today or tomorrow.
The bad news: Everything else.
According to FlightStats.com, about 2,500 flights have already been cancelled nationwide. Add that to almost 6,500 delays and you have your basic bad winter travel day. Worse, the storm hasn't even hit in New York yet or brought its full intensity to bear on Boston/Logan and New England. That is slated for later tonight and the overnight hours tomorrow.
So far, commuter carriers ExpressJet, American Eagle and Cape Air have combined for about 900 of today's cancellations. (Note to self: Regularly remind the members to avoid commuter carriers whenever possible in winter weather.) Worst hit airports: Chicago/O'Hare with about 700 inbound and outbound flights scrubbed. Then comes Newark (400+), followed by Logan (about 325), Cleveland (230+), New York/LaGuardia (220), New York/Kennedy (150+) and Philadelphia (about 130).
This comes after a very difficult New Year's Day when about 1,100 flights were cancelled nationwide and about 6,000 flights were delayed.
Tonight, expect continued delays--some of them many hours long--and increased cancellations. Atlanta and Charlotte are being hammered by rain. It's snowing from the Ohio Valley to Maine. There are flurries around snow-averse Washington and tonight's outbound bank of European flights from Newark, JFK and Boston will be heavily delayed and/or cancelled. Roads to/from Kennedy and Logan may be especially treacherous later this evening thanks to blizzard-like conditions.
Tomorrow? It'll be awful at Logan, where there won't be many morning departures because the airlines have basically cancelled the last bank of inbound flights tonight. Massport, which runs Logan, continues to spew the fiction that the airport will be open. But with no flights running, it's a distinction without a difference.
How about this weekend, when many of us get back on the road after the holidays? Some good news there. It'll be cold (bitterly so in many areas), but mostly clear. For better or worse, you'll be able to get back on the road.
1/2/14, 3:30PM ET, THURSDAY
REACCOMMODATION POLICIES THAT DON'T
Here are the major airlines" travel waiver policies:
US AIRWAYS http://www.usairways.com/TravelCenter/Advisories.aspx
VIRGIN AMERICA http://www.virginamerica.com/news.do?int=news_alertbart_travelAdvisory
The most interesting thing about these so-called "reaccommodation" policies? They aren't very accommodating. Martin Deutsch called American yesterday to move up a 3pm American Eagle departure from LaGuardia this afternoon to a flight leaving this morning. American demanded a $75 "confirmed standby" fee on the theory that its travel waiver lets you change days, but not times. Of course, as the weather worsened, American ended up canceling the 3pm flight.
12/31/13, 9:15PM ET, TUESDAY
MEET THE NEW SNOW, SAME AS THE OLD SNOW
Sorry to interrupt your New Year's Eve revels, but ... If you're planning to get back on the road in the next few days, there's bad news.
A snowstorm is hitting the Midwest now and is en route to the Northeast for later this week and the weekend.
There have been heavier-than-normal delays and cancellations at Chicago/O'Hare today and FlightStats.com is already recording dumped flights tomorrow. Cleveland is also being affected to a lesser extent. Thursday and Friday are forecast to be the bad days in the Northeast and in the Midwest. Needless to say, pay close attention to the weather in the coming hours.
Many of the airlines are out with travel waiver and accommodation policies of varying degrees of length and generosity. Because, you know, why start 2014 off easily ...
12/05/13, 2:15PM ET, THURSDAY
AND IT WASN'T EVEN WINTER YET...
The official start of winter was still several weeks away and yet there we were, shivering, with our flights cancelled and delayed. A barrage of winter-like storms messed with the nation's air-transportation system since the week before Thanksgiving. Ice and snow hit the flight network hard, particularly in the Dallas Metroplex, where residents are always shocked--shocked!--that they get ice and snowstorms. A brutal winter system raked Northern Europe. Click here for the coverage.
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 © 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.