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COAST-TO-COAST TRAVEL GRIEF
By Joe Brancatelli
Let's hope that old saw about March coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb is accurate because the lion part has certainly come true. A gigantic storm that began on the West Coast as heavy rains and ended up as a snowmaker in the MidAtlantic played havoc with the air-travel system. More than anything, though, the problem was that this storm came on the back of a brutal season that started before Thanksgiving. Estimates are that the awful weather has cost more than $5 billion. Like a travel blog, a Pinter play or one particular episode of Seinfeld, read backward since the latest item is on top.
3/4/14, 1PM ET, TUESDAY
TWO DAYS OF BAD ROAD
The big storm that stretched from coast-to-coast in the last few days took some last-minute zigs and zags. Dallas/Fort Worth got it worse than expected and the New York and Boston areas were largely spared. So keep it in mind when you consider these numbers. On Sunday, March 2, the system ran at 67 percent on-time and FlightStats.com reports that 2,167 flights (or about 10 percent) of the schedule was cancelled. On Monday, March 3, it was 71.8 percent on-time, but with nearly 3,330 cancellations, or about 14 percent of the system. You especially have to wonder about the very itchy cancellation trigger finger at American Airlines. Forty percent of the flights at DFW were off the board on Sunday and that was driven largely by American and its American Eagle commuter carrier. (At one point, it "rained" ice pellets in the area.) Monday, however, they did huge cancellations at their New York/Kennedy hub when the weather was fine. But yesterday's big loser was anyone trying to use the Washington-area airports. About 80 percent of flights on the Reagan National Airport schedule were dumped. About 40 percent of flights at Dulles and Baltimore-Washington were scrubbed.
3/3/14, 1PM ET, MONDAY
THE WINTER COSTS, OH, LET'S SAY $5 BILLION
If you believe these kinds of instant-analysis analyses, the winter storms have cost the economy more than $5 billion. According to an outfit called masFlight, that number includes cancelled and delayed flights, lost revenue and all sorts of other economic voodoo estimates. Here's how Bloomberg News covered it.
3/2/14, 4:45PM ET, SUNDAY
STAY TUNED FOR WINTER STORM UGLY
As a reminder, the folks at the Weather Channel have named this storm Titan. Last night, we speculated on what they'd call the next storm. But a JoeSentMe member came up with the best suggestion: Just call it Winter Storm Ugly. Way to go, Kass!
3/2/14, 4:30PM ET, SUNDAY
BAD TODAY, WORSE TOMORROW
You already know this if you're trying to travel today: It stinks and it is getting worse fast. Tomorrow will be pretty bad, too.
If you thought that March would bring better weather, well, tough luck for us. According to FlightStats.com, there have already been about 2,000 cancellations today and more than 3,700 delays. Worst hit is Dallas/Fort Worth, where FlightAware.com says 31 percent of flights have already dumped because of cold, snow, icing and the Texas' general inability to handle the fact that it really does get cold in the winter. Those are mostly American and American Eagle flights, of course. Lots of flights out of Tulsa and Oklahoma City are scrubbed, too. Airports such as Louisville, Columbus and Indianapolis are hit hard as well.
Tomorrow looks very bad in the East and the MidAtlantic. FlightAware has already recorded almost 1,500 cancellations. Half of Washington/National flights are already scrubbed, 25 percent are off the board in Philadelphia and about 20 percent at Washington/Dulles are gone. In New York, about 20 percent of flights have already been cancelled at the area's three major airports. JetBlue has cancelled the most flights already (nearly 200) and US Airways and its commuter carriers are aggressively pre-canceling as well.
Do yourself a favor and check the county-level National Weather Service map. This is going to be a localized storm. Some areas will be hit hard, other places won't. I say that mostly to guide your driving plans. Drill down on the map for the important local guidance.
Things will be better on Tuesday, though, so if you can reschedule, you'll be saving yourself a lot of trouble and delay.
3/1/14, 1:15AM ET, SATURDAY
CAN'T WAIT FOR THE WINTER STORM U...
The Weather Channel has this storm Titan. Ho-hum. But what do you think they have cooked up for "U"? Winter Storm Umberto? Winter Storm Uhura, which, of course, would have a really skimpy red skirt and a little silver thingie sticking out of its ear? Winter Storm Uma? Or maybe this'll be Winter Storm Johnny Unitas! Or maybe they'll go biblical with Winter Storm Uriah the Hittite or musical with Winter Storm Uriah Heep.
3/1/14, 12:45AM ET, SATURDAY
A DIRE NATIONWIDE FORECAST
Another dire weather forecast, this one virtually nationwide.
Know those insane rainstorms hitting the parched LA Basin and dumping tons of snow on the California ski resorts? They're all headed east this weekend. If the National Weather Service is to be believed, that'll mean snow, ice and general meteorological mayhem from coast to coast in the next few days. Click here for the official NWS language.
You'll also want to look at the NWS' county-by-county weather forecast map. It shows a terrifying crescent of winter-weather alerts from Idaho to Pennsylvania. That's here.
Late yesterday evening, all of the airlines posted travel waivers for the next few days, so check their home pages for the appropriate links.
However, I look at the early cancellation pattern for today (Saturday) and I see only a couple of dozen flights scrubbed. So that seems at odds with the NWS forecasts and the airlines' own travel waivers.
Another bit of good news: The bad weather seems to be headed through the heart of the country, missing the Chicago and Detroit hubs to the north and the Dallas and Atlanta hubs in the south.
So proceed with appropriate caution. But maybe we'll dodge a weather bullet this one time ... although temperatures are far below normal in most of the country.
2/17/14, 9:15PM ET, MONDAY
THERE'S STILL A MONTH OF WINTER AHEAD
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, our bodies and our schedules, you're forgiven if you are emulating Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons and hissing: Worst. Flying. Ever. Click here for details.
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.