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STILL A MONTH OF WINTER TO GO...
By Joe Brancatelli
It's been a brutal winter of flying. February has been particularly bad. Then came this week: another round of storms, another meltdown of United's balky passenger-service computers and a strike of security workers at Frankfurt Airport. Given this assault on our mind, bodies and schedules, you can be forgiven if you've begun to emulate Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons and dismissively rasp: Worst. Flying. Ever. And there doesn't seem to be a bright side, either. A month of winter is still to come. Like a blog, a Pinter play or one particular episode of Seinfeld, read backward since the latest item is on top.
2/22/14, 9AM ET, SATURDAY
WORST. FLYING. DAY. EVER?
Could yesterday have been the worst flying day ever this winter? Statistically, no. That's because 60.45 percent of flights arrived on-time and there were "only" 1,788 cancellations nationwide. But when you consider that yesterday has come after a brutal season of flying, an awful month of flying and a rotten week of flying, well... Add the fact that 22.3 percent of the flights nationwide were delayed at least 45 minutes and there was a mess in Frankfurt and you will be forgiven for thinking that February 21 was the worst of the worst. Of course, we still have a month of winter remaining, so, who knows...
2/21/14, 11AM ET, FRIDAY
FREAKY FRIDAY IN FRANKFURT
Besides continuing delays this morning in the major Midwest hubs due to the wacky winter weather, we have a security-worker's strike in Frankfurt that is snarling flights at Europe's third-largest hub. JoeSentMe members who were flying from Frankfurt this morning local time each used the term "chaos" to describe what's going on. And you know how well Germans do chaos. Apparently, fewer passengers than usual switched to the German rails and that has left long lines of passengers at security checkpoints and customs barriers.
2/20/14, 5PM ET, THURSDAY
DOWN GOES MIDWAY--AND THE UPPER MIDWEST
The wintry weather around the Upper Midwest is now really beginning to take its toll. Effective at 4pm CT, Southwest Airlines halted all flights at its Chicago/Midway hub. You'll recall that Southwest stranded nearly a dozen flights earlier this year during a snowstorm at Midway. Flights at Chicago/O'Hare are delayed around an hour. Meanwhile, in Minneapolis/St. Paul some arriving flights are delayed by upwards of three hours.
So far today, more than 900 flights have been cancelled and about 3,400 more have been delayed. FlightStats.com says the most heavily affected airports are the two Chicago airports, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Detroit/Metro.
By the way, Delta Air Lines, which has hubs in Minneapolis and Detroit, has a travel waiver policy in effect: http://www.delta.com/content/www/en_US/traveling-with-us/alerts-and-advisories/upper-midwest-winter-weather1.html I see nothing from United or American, the O'Hare-hubbed carriers. Here's what Southwest is saying publicly: http://www.southwest.com/html/advisories/swa_travel_advisory_20141191392826976925.html
The sun will come out tomorrow. But don't bet your bottom dollar...
2/18/14, 1PM ET, TUESDAY
UNITED COMPUTERS FAIL AGAIN
United Airlines' hopelessly messy passenger-service computers are once again acting up. There are mounting delays through United's network and it is twinning with bad weather in the East to create still another troublesome flying day.
As usual, United is being opaque about the specific issues involved. Of course, they probably don't know what's going on, just as they haven't for years. There's no notification on the United Web site, on the United Twitter feed or United's Facebook page. Here's United's boilerplate if it's helpful to you: "We are experiencing issues with our passenger service computer system. We are working to resolve this as quickly as possible and apologize to our customers for any inconvenience."
United's computers have been a mess since United and Continental switched to Continental's former system in March, 2012. The computers have continued to be troublesome sporadically and this is at least the third major meltdown just in the last year.
FlightStats.com reports that United is running 57 percent on-time for departures. The worst delays seem to be at Chicago/O'Hare, Houston/Intercontinental and Los Angeles. All are below 40 percent on-time. Delays were so severe this morning that the FAA put in a ground stop for all aircraft at O'Hare and planes were being held at their point of origin. If nothing else, that ground stop has now been lifted.
If social media reports are any indication, it's expectedly chaotic for travelers on United right now. I'm also getting reports from JoeSentMe members who say flights are being checked by hand and flight attendants are going through the aisles doing head counts.
In other words, another dreadful day for United, another bad travel day, and one more fun day to be a business traveler.
2/17/14, 9:15PM ET, MONDAY
ANOTHER SNOWY MESS TO START THE WEEK
Really? Really? I take my eyes off the prize for, what, 30 seconds, and what happens? Another snowy mess to start the week.
In case you missed it--or are waiting out still another cancellation without me--there have been more than 1,500 flights scrubbed today. Most of those have been to/from Chicago/O'Hare and Chicago/Midway. There also have been significant delays at Detroit, Denver, Minneapolis/St. Paul and New York/LaGuardia. More than 4,700 flights have been delayed nationwide.
This same storm--the boys and girls at the Weather Channel have named it Rex--is headed East. United, Southwest, Virgin America and JetBlue are out with travel waivers, but I don't see any for Delta, American or US Airways.
Proceed with appropriate caution. And see what happens when I step away to chop the ice off the steps of the vast, worldwide JoeSentMe world headquarters?
2/13/14, 2:30PM ET, THURSDAY
THE NEXUS OF CLOSED HUBS AND BAD WEATHER
Major airlines have shuttered at least 18 hubs in the last 20 years, the latest being United's "de-hubbing" of its Cleveland operations. The problem with closing hubs? In bad weather, we lose our ability to reroute and avoid problems. Which goes a long way in explaining why every winter storm now seems like a nightmare for business travelers. Click here for details.
2/10/14, 11PM ET, MONDAY
THIS REALLY ISN'T FUNNY ANYMORE
If someone told you a second ice storm would strike the South in a month, cripple the Atlanta and Charlotte hubs and then turn north to wipe out hubs in the I-95 Corridor, would you believe them? Of course not. Yet it happened. Fast and hard and at the cost of thousands of cancelled flights and who knows how many disrupted plans. Here is how we covered this particular ice and snowmaker that wiped us out for a week. And forgive the notable lack of humor. These storms just aren't funny anymore. Click here for the coverage.
2/03/14, 11:30PM ET, MONDAY
IT'S BEEN FEBRUARY SINCE NOVEMBER
It's February and even the most churlish business travelers can't be too angry when February storms play 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. Here is how we covered things. Click here for the coverage.
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 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.