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IT'S BEEN FEBRUARY SINCE NOVEMBER
By Joe Brancatelli
It's February and even the most churlish business traveler can't be too surprised or annoyed because February storms are playing havoc with their schedules. But it seems as if it's been February since November--with awful weather to match. So when back-to-back storms pounded us from the Rockies to the Atlantic Ocean again this week, it just seemed, well, too cruel for school. There's just so much February we can take, especially if it's been around since November. 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.
2/6/14, 2:30PM ET, THURSDAY
NOW DALLAS GETS WHACKED BY WEATHER
Had not the weather turned nasty again in Dallas--snow, ice and winds have caused hundreds of cancellations at DFW--today would have been something of a recovery day for the air system. Even with DFW's woes, 665 cancellations and 3,400 delays nationwide so far today seem like a breeze to handle after the last two days. Yesterday (February 5), while a storm was dumping up to a foot of snow and/or heavy rain in the East, there were more than 3,100 cancellations. That represents about 14.5 percent of the system nationwide. And more than one in three flights that did operate yesterday ran late, according to FlightStats.com. On Tuesday (February 4), as the storm was pounding the Midwest, there were nearly 1,800 cancellations and the system ran 73 percent on-time.
2/4/14, 11:30PM ET, TUESDAY
YESTERDAY, TODAY AND TOMORROW
So what do you want to talk about? Yesterday? Today? Tomorrow?
Fine. They've all been and will be awful thanks to these back-to-back-to-back-to-back-ad-nauseam storms whacking the country from the Rockies to the Atlantic.
Yesterday (February 3), the system ran just 71 percent on-time and there were 2,261 cancellations. According to FlightStats.com, that represents 9.95 percent of yesterday's scheduled flights.
Today? There have been more than 1,800 cancellations and 4,800 delays so far. (That includes poor JoeSentMe contributor Will Allen III, whose Atlanta-Johannesburg flight has now been delayed by five hours.)
Tomorrow? There have already been almost 1,900 cancellations as the airlines bail before the wintry-mix storm hits the big East Coast hubs.
In other words, this is February being February. Which wouldn't be too bad if it hadn't been the equivalent of February since before Thanksgiving.
What to do? Well, the airlines are all out with travel waivers. Some are a little more generous than others. If you don't have to hit the road in the next day or two, don't. I can't say next week will be better, but it couldn't be worse, right? If you do need to fly, drill down on the National Weather Service site (http://www.weather.gov) and see what's happening where you're hoping to go.
By the way, don't think the airlines will proactively take care of things for you. I spoke with a traveler today who found out from me that his American Airlines flight back from Cancun was cancelled. (And he'd booked that after wisely judging that American would cancel Monday's Cancun departure.) I heard back from him after the hotel concierge argued with American via phone for two hours in Spanish to get him on a flight out tomorrow.
Aren't you glad you're a business traveler?
By the way, the Weather Channel boys are calling this current storm Nika after calling Monday's storm Maximus. Come this weekend, if another possible storm develops, it'll be called Orion. I'll say it again: Whoever names storms for the Weather Channel is clearly obsessed with old episodes of Star Trek.
2/3/14, 5:45PM ET, MONDAY
MAYBE IT'S ALL DYLAN'S FAULT
Here's the really bad news: February's weather is going to be like, uh, February.
Today's difficult travel in the East--nearly 2,300 cancels and at least twice that many delays so far--is just the beginning of what is shaping up as a week of hell. Delays of two hours or more are common now from Philadelphia to New York, with lesser delays down to Washington and up to Boston.
All this week, from the Rockies to the Atlantic, there will be a wave of storms complete with snow, ice, freezing rain, sleet, slush, rain, winds and generally crappy travel conditions. There's nothing that looks particularly good on the weather or travel map this week. There will be brief periods of respite, but they will be very brief and quickly followed by more winter misery.
Sorry, I don't mean to be depressing, but that's the outlook. Wishing it weren't so doesn't make it go away.
If you don't have to travel this week, consider rescheduling. It's really gonna be (and this is the official meteorological term) icky. If you must travel this week, be prepared for long delays, abrupt cancellations and other genuine disruptions. The air system is going to be slow and unreliable. The only silver lining is that this is a traditionally light week for travel demand, so there should be relatively good availability of seats for rescheduling. Ground conditions are going to be poor.
Best advice: Use the National Weather Service site (http://www.weather.gov) and drill down to the county and zip-code-level forecasts. That's how dicey the weather geeks suggest the week will be.
I would also urge you to use the Current Conditions section of the JoeSentMe home page. It's at the upper right hand corner. Besides the FlightStats.com flight-tracking box, you'll find links to air-traffic control, the FlighAware and FlightStats delay and cancellations trackers and other valuable links. And I can't stress enough how important it will be to use the tips I laid out in the winter travel planner a few weeks back.
By the way, if you want to blame this plague of bad weather on Bob Dylan for doing a Chrysler commercial, well, who am I to argue with your religious or musical beliefs? But I kinda got lost 'cause Dylan was asking "What's more American than America?" in an ad from a company once run by Germans and now owned by Italians.
2/3/14, 11:30AM ET, MONDAY
THEY CALL THE WIND MARIAH...AND THE STORM MAXIMUS
Okay, you want to laugh or cry?
If you want to laugh, the crazies at the Weather Channel have named the storm whacking the Northeast "Maximus." Really, Maximus, which sounds like a super villain from the original Star Trek series.
Want to cry? Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock can't help us. The storm is throwing down more snow on hubs from Washington to Boston than expected. And after as much as eight inches today into this evening, there'll be ice tonight and more crummy, delay- and cancellation-making precipitation tomorrow and Wednesday.
So far, FlightStats.com is reporting more than 1,400 cancellations nationwide and they are piling up fast. More than 200 flights dumped in the last 15 minutes. Those flights that are going out face growing delays.
According to FlightAware.com, about a third of the flights at New York/LaGuardia, Newark and Philadelphia have already been scrubbed. There are many more delays than cancellations at the Washington-area airports and Boston and other New England airports are due to get their hit later today. Airlines have their standard travel waiver policies out.
Of course, in Metro New York, all this complicates the exodus after the Super Bowl. So if this hangs on for a few days in New York, gonna be a lot of unhappy football fans. And imagine all the pent-up anger those Denver people have...
Also complicating things: An icy, slushy mess hit the Dallas Metroplex yesterday and flights out of DFW today will be more crowded than usual.
1/27/14, 11:30PM ET, MONDAY
WHEN IT'S SNOWY TIME DOWN SOUTH
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. Click here for the coverage.
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.