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WHEN IT'S SNOWY TIME DOWN SOUTH
By Joe Brancatelli
When the weather forecasters warned that a big snow and ice storm would hit the South from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic Coast, everyone expected trouble. In the air and on the ground. Everyone except for the people who run the state of Georgia and the city of Atlanta. They had no emergency plan and apparently didn't know that they were supposed to have one--even though a similar storm three years ago shut down the state for days. Here is how we covered things. Like a blog, a Pinter play or one particular episode of Seinfeld, read backward since the latest item is on top.

1/31/14, 8:30AM ET, FRIDAY
ATLANTA? BAD. DELTA? WORSE.

To say the South is recovering extremely slowly from Tuesday's snowfall and ice "event" is an understatement. Almost 25 percent of the schedule at Atlanta-Hartsfield was dumped yesterday, according to FlightAware.com. Delta Air Lines ran 38 percent on-time nationwide yesterday, according to FlightStats.com And nearly 2,000 flights across the country were cancelled, which represents 8.5 percent of the system. Not much June in January this year...

1/30/14, 11:30AM ET, THURSDAY
CHINA'S NEW YEAR HOLIDAY WILL BE DELAYED

Looking for a silver lining to this week's chaos in the South? You have to go clear to China to find it. With the lunar New Year celebrations beginning this weekend, much of China is on the move to spend the holiday with family. And that's brought China's shaky airline network to the brink of operational collapse. On Wednesday, according to FlightAware.com, China's largest carriers were a mess. Hainan Airlines ran at just 32 percent on time while Xiamen was at 33 percent. Shenzen Airlines' on-time performance was just 35 percent while China Eastern was at 40 percent. China Southern was at 48 percent on-time. The five carriers together registered more than 2,000 delays.

1/30/14, 9:30AM ET, THURSDAY
WEDNESDAY WAS ANOTHER VERY BAD DAY IN ATLANTA

The winter storm that hit the South and surprised unprepared local governments throughout the region also was brutal on airline traffic. In fact, yesterday was worse by many measures than Tuesday. FlightStats.com reports that 3,077 flights were cancelled, which represents about 14 percent of the system. According to FlightAware.com, more than 40 percent of all flights into and out of Atlanta-Hartsfield were cancelled. About 15 percent of flights at Chicago/O'Hare, Houston/Intercontinental and Charlotte were dumped, too. Delta Air Lines was worst hit: a full third of its schedule (about 773 flights) were cancelled. Half of AirTran Airways schedule was also scrubbed, but it's a much smaller player now as Southwest Airlines continues to move flights to its own brand.

1/29/14, 5PM ET, WEDNESDAY
THE HIGH COST OF WINTER WEATHER

While the South was struggling with the storm, JetBlue Airways executives in New York were talking with analysts about the carrier's excellent fourth quarter and full-year results. But there was bad news, too. The airline says all the storms are expected to reduce first-quarter revenue by $45 million and knock down earnings by $30 million. As you recall, United Airlines said last week that the January storms would cost it $60 million (see below).

1/29/14, 3:15PM ET, WEDNESDAY
DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN IN ATLANTA

For those who think Georgia officials somehow deserve a pass because the snow and ice storm that has paralyzed the state is a once-in-a-lifetime freak of nature, surf here for a reality check. That's The Brancatelli File coverage of the 2011 ice storm. It closed Atlanta and much of the state of Georgia for days because government officials were caught unaware then, too.

Meanwhile, two reports from the front. A JoeSentMe member holed up near Hartsfield reports this: "I just saw a plow pass by my hotel on the north side of the airport for the third time. No snow to plow, but the ice is nicely Zambonied." And this from another member: "A friend of mine spent seven hours getting home from downtown yesterday. It took him an hour just to get out of the parking garage."

1/29/14, 1:15PM ET, WEDNESDAY
ATLANTA'S A DISASTER, THE SOUTH'S A MESS

Here's a headline from today's Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Gridlock continues as unspeakably horrible commute home stretches into second day.

That sums it up well. As bad as the Southern skies were yesterday and have been today, Georgia in general--and Atlanta in particular--is an unspeakable mess on the ground. Some people have been trying to get home since midday yesterday and are STILL stranded on the states local roads and Interstates.

Think that the airlines stink? Of course they do, but the folks running Georgia are much worse. Admittedly, up to 3 inches of snow and ice is a rare occurrence in the Peach State. But the city of Atlanta and the state of Georgia literally did nothing as the storm bore down. The governor didn't declare a state of emergency--and, by his own admission today, didn't know it would have given him the power to keep people off the road. The state's emergency management system wasn't activated because no state of emergency was declared. The roads, interstate or local, weren't sanded or salted in advance and the Atlanta mayor seems shocked to think that any of this might have helped.

And the powers that be in Georgia were actually blaming weather forecasters during a press conference earlier today. Apparently, Georgia officials think the weather geeks are required to comr knocking on the door of the state house and Atlanta City Hall with a decree otherwise it doesn't count. Because, you know, everyone else in the nation knew this was coming days ago. In fact, read down to my warning to you Monday night about exactly what has shut down Georgia today.

Besides the mess on the impassable roads, thousands of people are stuck in stores and shops that opened their doors to provide shelter. Worst of all, the clucks running the state of Georgia and the city of Atlanta don't seem to know when any of the roads will be cleared and day-to-day life will resume.

Which is not so say that conditions from New Orleans to the Carolina Coast are that much better. The storm--complete with icing and rare snowfalls--has snarled the region and not that much is moving on the ground or in the air.

According to FlightStats.com, 3,700 or so flights were dumped yesterday. That's 17.5 percent of the system nationwide, an extraordinary number considering the large Northeast hubs were mostly unaffected by this particular storm.

According to FlightAware.com, more than half the flights at Houston/InterContinental were dumped yesterday. More than a third of the flights at Atlanta/Hartsfield were scrubbed. A third of Cleveland's flights were dumped and 20 percent of Chicago/O'Hare flights were off. About 20 percent of flights at Charlotte were cancelled.

Today in the skies isn't all that much better. Access roads to/from Atlanta/Hartsfield are open, but getting that close to the access roads is tricky. And at least a third of the flights at Atlanta (about 600) have already been dumped. Forget smaller airports in the South. Cancellations run from 40 percent of the schedule to 80 percent in Gulfport-Biloxi. There have been about 100 cancellations in Charlotte. Houston/Intercontinental is better today, though, as cancellations have dropped substantially.

Bottom line: Avoid the South if you can and use the airlines' travel waivers to change your flights away from Southern hubs for connections.

1/28/14, 9:15AM ET, TUESDAY
THE SOUTH IS CLOSED

The big news this morning is the death of Pete Seeger, one of the great Americans of our time. I'd like to talk about that for hours, but you rely on me for travel-related news. Besides, Pete would never forgive me for being morose and not doing my job. So...

The South is basically closed for flying today. The cold temperatures, snow and ice--not to mention the awful forecast--have led the airlines to essentially abandon the region and not even try to operate.

As of 9:15am this morning, airlines have already dumped nearly 3,100 flights, according to FlightStats.com. And FlightAware.com shows that the vast majority are at the nation's Southern hubs: About a third of the flights at Atlanta/Hartsfield have already been cancelled. About half of flights at Houston/Bush Intercontinental have been dropped. More than two-thirds of the flights at New Orleans have been scrubbed. More than a third of the flights at Houston/Hobby are gone. Cancellations are also creeping up at Charlotte/Douglas (about 15 percent now). Smaller airports around the region are also largely abandoned since the commuter carriers that serve them have pulled out. Also badly affected today: Cleveland Hopkins.

Needless to say, if you don't know your flight to/from the Southland is going today, give it up. Even if it is still scheduled to go, don't be surprised if it cancels later today. If you're headed between two points that don't touch the South, make sure you're not trying to connect through the big Southern hubs. We talked about smart winter travel planning several weeks ago, so I advise you to review the details here.

As I told you last night, the airlines all have travel waivers out, but don't assume things will be better tomorrow. Given the South's inability to handle this kind of weather, this will take a few days to unravel.

By the way, if you know nothing about Pete Seeger, learn fast here. And then listen to Pete doing what he did--sing, sing for what's right and true and bring us all into the conversation.

1/27/14, 7:15PM ET, MONDAY
AND NOW THE SOUTH WILL GET WHACKED

Today was a tough day for bad weather and awful travel from Denver to Cleveland. Tomorrow and Wednesday are gonna be bad from New Orleans to Virginia. In other words: No relief from more than two months of weather terror.

The airlines are out with travel waivers for the next couple of days in the Southeast due to winds, snow, ice, sleet and extreme cold from the Mississippi to the Atlantic Ocean. Check the county-by-county bad news at http://www.Weather.gov. That's one ugly pinkish crescent down south.

Here is what the airlines are saying:

AMERICAN: http://www.aa.com/i18n/travelInformation/travelAlerts.jsp#!travelPolicy
DELTA: http://www.delta.com/content/www/en_US/traveling-with-us/alerts-and-advisories/Southeast-Winter-Weather.html
JETBLUE: http://www.jetblue.com/JetblueAlerts/WeatherUpdate.aspx?intcmp=global_travelalert
SOUTHWEST: http://www.southwest.com/html/advisories/swa_travel_advisory_20140271390861811435.html
UNITED: http://www.united.com/CMS/en-US/travel/news/Pages/travelnotices.aspx?v_ctrk=HHLN$0-772-5782-1-3907
US AIRWAYS: http://www.usairways.com/TravelCenter/Advisories.aspx

The flying problem in the Southeast will surely be exacerbated by bad road conditions, ice being something the South has never dealt with particularly well. There could also be power outages as not-used-to-icing communities begin to freeze up and power lines go down.

Plan accordingly, and, obviously, if you don't need to travel to the Southeast in the next few days, all the better.

By the way, The Weather Channel has unilaterally named this southern storm "Leon." They did not say whether that referred to Leon Russell or the Kings of Leon. See why it's a bad idea to name winter storms?

1/23/14, 2PM ET, THURSDAY
JANUARY STORMS COST UNITED $60 MILLION IN REVENUE

At its quarterly earnings call this morning, United Airlines said it cancelled 6,300 flights during the first seven days of January. Moreover, January's storms were expected to knock about half a percent off the airline's total capacity for the first quarter of the year. It will also cut United's first quarter PRASM (passenger revenue per available seat mile), the key measure of airline revenue, by about four-tenths of a percent. Overall, January's storm would cost United about $60 million in revenue, according to United chief financial officer John Rainey.

1/20/14, 9PM ET, MONDAY
A LOUSY 60 DAYS OF FLYING

Just when we thought it was safe to get back out on the road after the chaos of the New Year's storm, we got whacked again with snow and extraordinarily cold weather. This new storm was unique--in a bad way--since it clogged Chicago and blanketed East Coast hubs from Boston to Charlotte. In other words, a particular brand of hell for frequent travelers, part of a particularly lousy 60 days of bad weather dating back to just before last Thanksgiving. Click here for the coverage.

1/10/14, 9PM ET, FRIDAY
HAPPY NEW BUSINESS-TRAVEL YEAR. NOT.

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. Click here for the coverage.

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.