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The In-Like-a-Lion Thing...
Let's be honest: The weather has bitch-slapped us all winter. January on the road was bad. February was a disaster and March, well, you know what they say. We can only hope for some mutton-like relief as the month wears on. Meanwhile, here's how we've covered developments. As always, read up from the bottom for the full context of this winter's general assault and March's specific indignities.
3/6/15, 8AM ET, FRIDAY
STUCK AT DFW? THE AIRPORT SAYS IT'S BAD LUCK FOR YOU
The Dallas News has been strangely mute about the problems at DFW this winter and all the winters before it (see below). But woe to a public facility if a reporter has a problem. In what is the equivalent of pointing your camera out the window when a storm hits--it's why the streets in front of a newspaper office or TV station are always cleaned first--a Dallas News editor got stuck at DFW Wednesday night. He couldn't get from the terminal to his car. That, of course, finally led to a story about conditions at DFW. And comparisons to Dallas Love Field, which doesn't have the problems. Still, surprisingly little outrage for a town known to get its back up whenever someone slights the Metroplex. (BTW, don't miss the DFW flack telling the paper that the editor who got stuck was just a victim of bad luck...)
3/5/15, 9PM ET, THURSDAY
LIONS AND LAMBS AND BELUSHI, OH MY!
You're probably already tired of people telling you that March "comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb." That's cold (not to mention snowy) comfort when we've been battling nasty weather on the road. Besides, it may not even be true. Thanks to JoeSentMe member Jeffrey Erlbaum, we can report that meteorologist John Belushi isn't tied to the lion-lamb thing. Back in 1976, Belushi had this information on the lion-lamb meme.
3/5/15, 8PM ET, THURSDAY
DFW CRUMBLES IN THE SNOW (AGAIN). WHY DOESN'T AMERICAN CARE?
Local media reports say that 3.5 inches of snow fell on Dallas/Fort Worth Airport last night into this morning. That, of course, created another day of havoc at the gigantic facility. More than 750 takeoffs and landings have been scrubbed today at DFW, according to FlightStats.com. That brings the 30-day total of cancellations at DFW to 6,646, nearly double that of Chicago/O'Hare over the same period.
None of this comes as a surprise to travelers who increasingly view DFW as an unreliable facility in winter. In fact, according to an analysis buried in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, DFW has racked up more delays than any other airport in the country over the last five years. The airport is also eighth in the number of cancellations over the same five-year span.
Also notable: Dallas Love Field seems to have none of the problems that constantly bedevil DFW and American Airlines, its primary tenant. Although it is much smaller, Love had only 500 or so cancellations during the same 30-day period when DFW racked up 6,600.
Some of the differential can be explained by slightly different weather patterns. DFW is located between the cities of Fort Worth and Dallas. Love is 18 miles away in downtown Dallas. Some of it can be explained by the difference between American's DFW hub-and-spoke operations versus the point-to-point approach of Southwest Airlines, which dominates at Love Field.
But neither factor fully explains why DFW is consistently plagued with delays and cancellations whenever the slightest bit of inclement weather arrives. Or why, for example, DFW ran out of deicing fluid during icy weather last weekend. Or why a few inches of snow or freezing rain cripple a facility that frequently receives snow and freezing rain in winter.
Bottom line? "American doesn't place a premium on being prepared for the winter weather or the inevitable spring storms," one airline executive told me this week. "And if American doesn't press for better operations, there's no pressure on DFW managers to do anything about it. If American wanted DFW to operate better, it would."
3/5/15, 7PM ET, THURSDAY
AND WE'RE NOT EVEN AT THE IDES YET...
The statistics say this winter hasn't been as bad as last winter and you can believe that or not based on your own travels. But one thing is not in question: Coming off a brutal February, March has been worse. Much Worse.
The big losers today have been flyers headed to, flying from or through LaGuardia in New York, where the runway incident involving Delta Flight 1086 closed the airport for hours. According to FlightAware.com, about 900 takeoffs and landings have been scrubbed. That's more than 70 percent of all the flights scheduled there today. The rest of the New York area was no bargain, either. More than 40 percent of the flights at Newark were dropped and about 25 percent of the schedule at Kennedy was scrubbed.
Around the rest of the East, about 60 percent of the flights at Philadelphia were sacrificed to the snow. Two-thirds of the flights at Washington/National were dumped and the other Washington-area airports were only marginally better. All of Washington was essentially shut down today, including the federal government. (No word on whether Hillary Clinton's private server was still running. But that was running in suburban New York anyway, so maybe that doesn't count.)
3/5/15, 3PM ET, THURSDAY
THE NUMBERS SAY WE'RE NOT SUFFERING AS MUCH AS WE THINK
It doesn't seem like it, but, at least through February, this winter has not been as bad as last winter. At least if you go by statistics compiled by MasFlight from government records. As you can see by the chart, about 63,000 flights were cancelled between December and the end of February. That's only about 60 percent of the cancellations last winter during the same three-month period and, in fact, a bit below the winter average since 2009. Of course, you know what they say about statistics lying...
3/5/15, 2:45PM ET, THURSDAY
AT LGA, A NEAR-MISS (THANKFULLY) AND CLOSED RUNWAYS
You've surely seen the photos by now, but Delta Air Lines Flight 1086 from Atlanta came thisclose to toppling into Flushing Bay when it landed around 11 a.m. at New York's LaGuardia Airport. The plane slid off the runway, smashed through a chain-link fence and stopped on a restraining berm just a few feet from the water.
According to Delta, there were 127 passengers and five crew members on the 28-year-old MD-88 aircraft. Media reports say about two dozen minor injuries, including three passengers taken to the hospital, were reported. According to the Port Authority, which operates LGA, the plane veered sharply left about 4,500 or 5,000 feet down the 7,000-foot runway. Click here for the CNN story on the incident.
It was snowing at the airport, of course, although the Port Authority says the runway had been plowed just before the plane touched down. The National Transportation Safety Board is sending an investigative team.
You can listen to the interaction between the cockpit and air traffic controllers as the plane struggled to come to a stop. LGA has been closed since the incident and may not open before 7 p.m. local time. There were hundreds of cancellations at LGA even before the Flight 1086 incident and hundreds more flights will drop as the day continues.
3/5/15, 12:45PM ET, THURSDAY
MEANWHILE, ON THE NORWEGIAN FRONT ...
The Norwegians know how to handle snow better than us, of course, but pilots strikes? Not so much. While we've been whacked again and again with storms, Norwegian Air, the low-fare carrier that's the second-largest airline in Scandinavia, has been whacked by a strike. It's in its sixth day and has forced Norwegian to cancel virtually all of its intra-Scandinavia flights.
The issue? The pilots want a contract with the parent company, not any of Norwegian Air's multiple subsidiaries around the world. Norwegian Air management has refused. What's the difference? Contracts negotiated with Norwegian Air's parent company are governed by Scandinavia's worker-friendly rules. Those negotiated with subsidiaries based in other countries aren't.
Why does any of this matter to us? Because Norwegian Air's expanding service to the United States has been contested by the U.S. carriers and the Air Line Pilots Association. Their objection? Essentially the same as the striking Norwegian Air pilots. They don't like the carrier's habit of playing a shell game with employee contracts. So stay tuned. Norwegian Air's policies have been swept up with the U.S. carriers' attacks on the Gulf carriers.
3/5/15, 12:15PM ET, THURSDAY
TALES FROM THE SNOW FRONT
My Seat 2B column this week recounts how some of our fellow flyers coped with one of the recent storms. A seven-hour flight became a two-night odyssey for one flyer. A flight from Central America became a guessing game from another. And still another traveler simply gave up trying to call and cancel a flight. Click here for the tales of woe.
3/5/15, 11:45AM ET, THURSDAY
LOUSY SMARCH WEATHER
Travel conditions are deteriorating today because of the storm stretching from Texas to Maine.
LaGuardia Airport in New York is now closed until 7 p.m. The reason? Snow and a Delta Air Lines flight from Atlanta that slid off the runway. (No serious injuries, thankfully.) Traffic at the other New York area airports, Kennedy and Newark, is moving, albeit with heavy cancellations and many delays.
Overall today, at least 2,500 flights have been cancelled nationwide. That's about 15 percent of the system nationwide. There's been 3.5 inches of snow at Dallas/Fort Worth so that has led to about 700 cancellations there today. Flights are also heavily delayed or cancelled at Philadelphia and the Washington area airports.
In the border states, record snowfalls have locked up the roads with hours-long delays on the major Interstates.
This condition will NOT end quickly, so plan accordingly. Worst of all, if you WANT to change flights, the airlines' phone lines are beyond jammed. They are literally hanging up on people due to the volume. That includes the elite lines, which have calling delays of several hours.
As the Simpsons would say, Lousy Smarch Weather.
3/4/15, 1:15PM ET, WEDNESDAY
MISS FEBRUARY YET?
Dallas/Fort Worth has fallen and it can't get up. The Southeast, Ohio Valley, MidAtlantic and Northeast are bracing for wind, snow, locust, ice, fog, frogs and other assorted winter plagues.
Miss February yet?
After another brutal day on the road yesterday--1,577 cancellations and 7,800 delays, says FlightStats.com--and terrible conditions on Monday, today is shaping up to be another disaster. A thousand flights have already been cancelled and at least that many more will probably be dumped before the end of the day. More than 550 flights tomorrow are already off the board.
The nexus of all bad things this month, so far, has been Dallas/Fort Worth, which has been getting more than its share of winter conditions. But it must be noted, DFW can't seem to get the basics done, either. We'll have more about the sad state of winter travel via DFW tomorrow in Tactical Traveler, but it is clear that both DFW airport authorities and American Airlines, the hub carrier, are chronically unprepared and, frankly, negligent in winter-weather preps. Bottom line: No matter how much you may like DFW's facilities and American Airlines' schedule there, neither is fit for a winter itinerary. There are five years of statistics to prove it. You travel via DFW in future at your own risk now. You've been warned.
What's coming later today, tomorrow and Friday? Ugly winter weather that is already playing havoc with schedules from the Mississippi to the Atlantic. All I can suggest is drilling down to the county-level forecasts issued by the National Weather Service and available at http://www.weather.gov.
The Weather Channel has named this storm Thor and that seems to tickle many people's fancy and totally delight anyone associated with the Marvel comic and movie franchise. Still, naming winter storms is ridiculous and you adopt the Weather Channel nomenclature at your own risk, too. Remember I warned you next year when they start naming storms Daredevil or Hulk or Silver Surfer--or, worst of all, Sue and Johnny Storm. And what will next winter's "T" storm be? Winter Storm Thing?
If you don't have to fly to/from/through the Eastern half of the country for the rest of the week, I urge you to reconsider. There are predictions of as much as a foot of snow on the way and the forecasters don't know exactly when or where or for how long it'll hit. Twin that with the ice and extreme cold--after a milder, meltdown day along the East Coast today--and it's a recipe for travel chaos.
Consult the current travel waivers carefully because I've heard from several JoeSentMe members that airline staff are either unaware of the waivers or are ignoring them in their attempt to charge change fees.
3/3/15, 8:15AM ET, TUESDAY
YUP, MARCH HAS COME IN LIKE A LION
Okay, I promise I'll only do this once this month: March has come in like a lion...
After brutal travel days Sunday (2,400 cancellations and 8,000 delays) and yesterday (almost 1,100 cancellations and 8,500 delays), today is shaping up to be miserable. So is Wednesday and Thursday. It's almost going to make you miss February...
Right now, there are already 650 cancellations and the forecast is miserable for about four-fifths of the country. We're looking at blizzard conditions in the Plains states, a wintry mix that is already playing havoc with flights at Chicago's airports and trouble on the roads and airports along the I-80 and I-70 corridors. There are lots of reports of fog in the South. The storm is headed East late this afternoon and overnight brings snow and freezing rain. In other words, chaos in the East for the next 48 hours or so. It's going to be a very, very difficult week to travel.
Surf over to http://www.weather.gov to see how much of the nation is covered with warnings and watches by the National Weather Service.
Need to change your plans? Many airlines are out with travel waivers, although they differ geographically and chronologically.
3/1/15, 5:45PM ET, SUNDAY
NO SUNSHINE, NO LOLLIPOPS, NO RAINBOWS
Thought the bad weather was going to end with Worst. February. Ever.? Guess again. Today is shaping up as one of the worst days of winter to fly.
Dallas/Fort Worth continues to be a mess: about 475 takeoffs and landings dumped and more than 400 delays so far. Yesterday was another truly miserable day there, with more than 1,110 cancellations and another night of folks camped out at the airport. The flights that did operate were often subject to long tarmac holds and long delays for deicing.
Now the East is getting whacked by a wintry mix, too.
Nearly 300 flights have been cancelled so far at New York/LaGuardia, about 200 are gone at Newark and almost 130 are scrubbed at New York/Kennedy. There are about 250 takeoff and landings "annulled" at Philadelphia and hundreds scrubbed at the three Washington-area airports. O'Hare in Chicago is no bargain, either, with hundreds of delays and more than 100 cancellations. Charlotte, Raleigh/Durham and (to a lesser extent) Detroit/Metro and Atlanta are messy, too.
The airline(s) doing least well this weekend are American and US Airways. Worse, they are impossible to get on the phone, something several JoeSentMe members have attested to this weekend. Delta has been no bargain to reach, either.
Oh, just to make the rest of your weekend rotten: The outlook for travel tomorrow morning is bad. Lots of freezing rain (and/or more snow) is forecast for the Northeast. There is heavy snow predicted in the Upper West and Great Lakes. And there are (comparatively speaking, of course) heavy rains on tap for the Southwest.
Even Miami and Atlantic Coast Florida have issues: rip currents, making the 80-degree day a hard one for swimming. Just sayin'...
And not for nothing, but I notice that February and now March really turned most rotten since Lesley Gore died two weeks ago. You know what that means? No sunshine, lollipops and rainbows.
03/01/15, 12:15PM ET, SUNDAY
MEET THE NEW TRAVEL PREP, SAME AS THE OLD TRAVEL PREP
A column I wrote last year at this time about winter travel prep still makes sense because everything old is new again when it comes to weather. Click here to read it.
03/01/15, 12PM ET, SUNDAY
WORST. FEBRUARY. EVER.
The numbers say this winter isn't a patch on the kind of awful season we had last year. And it's hard to argue with the numbers or forget the fall and winter from hell that was late 2013 and early 2014. But, man, this February has been brutal. New England is buried in record snowfalls and New York, the MidAtlantic and the Mid South have been whacked, too. Click here to see how we covered it.
1/31/15, 11:45AM ET, SATURDAY
ANOTHER WEEK, ANOTHER BIG WINTER STORM
Feeling a little circumspect after last week's "missed by this much" prediction of an "historic" storm for the entire Northeast Corridor, the National Weather Service was being very careful about making a call for this next system. The storm turned out to be a bit of an oddball, too, stretching horizontally from the Midwest to the Northeast. Click here to see how we covered it.
1/25/15, 1PM ET, SUNDAY
AN 'HISTORIC,' IF SOMEWHAT SELECTIVE, STORM
The usually circumspect National Weather Service predicted an "historic" storm for the Northeast--and the NWS was right, just selectively. The Washington Metro area was relatively unscathed. Philadelphia and New York dodged the bullet. But most of New England didn't. Parts of Maine and Massachusetts got socked with 36 inches of snow and more than two feet fell on Boston/Logan Airport. Click here to see how we covered it.
This column is Copyright © 2015 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2015 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. 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.