The Brancatelli File By Joe Brancatelli
March Madness ... and Not the Good Kind
This is the time of year that we're supposed to be reveling in college basketball's March Madness. And the first day of 16 games had some bracket-busting upsets. But it's been March Madness on the road this week, too, and that is not fun. We're gutting out days of strikes at Lufthansa, an air traffic control strike in Italy, a last-minute winter storm and some odd behavior from our fellow flyers. Here's how we've covered developments. As always, read up from the bottom for the full context.

3/21/15, 2:30PM ET, SATURDAY

A mad week on the road took a deadly turn on Friday evening when a man, wielding a machete and a can of insect repellant, attacked the security checkpoint on Concourse B at New Orleans Airport. After a torrent of misreporting and bad facts--not uncommon in the early moments of a breaking news story, but magnified in this era of instant repetition on social media--the current report in the New Orleans Times-Picayune says:
  + The 63-year-old suspect lived near the airport in Kenner, may have been a cab driver and doesn't seem to have a terrorist (or any other agenda). He was not a passenger on any flight coming or going to the airport on Friday.
  + After attacking TSA agents by entering a PreCheck line, he was shot by a sheriff's deputy employed by Jefferson Parish, the legal authority where the airport is located. The suspect was not killed as earlier reports claimed. He remains in a local hospital after surgery in serious condition.
  + A TSA agent and a passenger were both wounded by gunfire, apparently by police since there are no reports that the suspect had a firearm.
  + The incident was observed by a Boston Globe columnist, who was in the airport at the time of the attack. She tweeted reports as the attack was happening. Her tweets are part of the Times-Picayune coverage and some earlier reports filed by the Associated Press and a local television station. (Update on 3/22, 7am: The newspaper reports that the assailant died and that only one other person, the TSA agent, was hit by police gunfire. For the most recent story, click here.)

3/21/15, 2:15PM ET, SATURDAY

The snow arrived later in the New York area than anyone predicted yesterday and that led to more cancellations than expected since airlines had already proactively dumped morning flights expecting an early-in-the-day storm. It also led to this scenario, as recorded by JoeSentMe member Karen Johnson: "Sitting in Newark hoping to get out to Charlotte tonight. Way delayed flights. But technology is wonderful. About every half-hour, all the cellphones juicing in the Verizon charging station start ringing at the same time. It's US Airways tell[ing] us all of another delay. And when we call them back ... they are so swamped the recorded voice tells us to call back [later]."

3/21/15, 2PM ET, SATURDAY

There were so many bad-news things going on the last couple of days, it's hard to keep track of the problems travelers encountered. So let's just give the "final scores," so to speak.
  + Today's pilot strike at Lufthansa focused on long-haul flights and has led to 53 cancellations. That doesn't sound like much, but it's about half of the German carrier's worldwide service. The one bit of good news? It looks as if Lufthansa cancelled only a few flights to/from the United States and Asia routes took the brunt of the disruption.
  + Yesterday's last-gasp-of-winter storm in the MidAtlantic and Northeast accounted for the bulk of the 1,300+ domestic cancellations and 6,400+ delays. According to, nearly 375 take-offs and landings were cancelled at Newark and 300 more were delayed. Things were almost as bad at New York's LaGuardia Airport. There were fewer cancellations at Kennedy Airport (160) but more than 325 delays. Nearly 150 flights were dumped at Philadelphia and there were 500 delays. There were also plenty of delays and cancellations at the Washington-area airports. Worst-hit airline? Among the majors, it was Southwest, with 94 cancellations and 1,128 delays.
  + The pilots strike at Lufthansa yesterday was aimed at the carrier's short-haul network and the results were about as chaotic as we've come to expect. More than 775 flights were dumped between the mainline carrier and its CityLine commuter service. That's substantially worse than the short-haul problems on Wednesday, a situation the airline blamed on the Italians. (see below).
  + Lest we forget, Italian air traffic controllers were on strike yesterday, too. That led to about 230 cancellations and 90 delays at Alitalia and its CityLiner commuter carrier. EasyJet, which has a large Italian network, cancelled 34 flights and delayed 200 more. Virtually all of the flights cancelled and delayed were flying from or headed to Rome/Fiumicino or Milan's two airports, Linate and Malpensa.

3/20/15, 9AM ET, FRIDAY

The last-gasp, literally last-minute winter storm has moved more slowly than the weather geeks expected, so it's not even snowing yet at many of the largest Eastern airports. But the cancellations are piling up. reports more than 750 domestic flights have already been scrubbed and more than 600 are to/from New York's three major airports. But it's not yet snowing in the New York area. There have also been several dozen flights dumped in Philadelphia and the Washington area airports.

Meanwhile, the Lufthansa pilots strike and Italy's air traffic control strike are playing havoc on the continent. Lufthansa and its CityLine division have dropped nearly 800 flights. Alitalia and its commuter airline have dumped more than 200. There are also dozens of cancellations at easyJet, which has a substantial presence in Italy.

3/19/15, 9PM ET, THURSDAY

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the airports in the Northeast, the weather gods have a surprise. Even though spring arrives Friday evening, a snowstorm on Friday morning could blanket the MidAtlantic and parts of New England.

As much as six inches could fall from Virginia to Massachusetts, although amounts will vary dramatically. The storm is expected to begin around daybreak. The airlines are already reacting and many have wiped out early-morning flights. is reporting nearly 300 flight cancellations tomorrow, about two-thirds of them at United's Newark hub. The airlines are out with tightly focused travel waivers for airports from Washington up to Hartford if you want to change plans. I trust you'll make a smart decision.

Oh, as if to taunt us, The Weather Channel is calling this Winter Storm Ultima.

3/19/15, 8:30PM ET, THURSDAY

After dumping about 750 short-haul flights yesterday due to a pilot's strike, Lufthansa cancelled about 50 today, most of them long-haul flights and many of them on the German carrier's routes to and from the United States. That represents about half of Lufthansa's worldwide long-haul network that mostly operates to and from its Frankfurt and Munich hubs.

And it gets worse: Pilots have called for a third day of strikes tomorrow and a fourth day of job actions on Saturday. Tomorrow's strike will once again focus on the short-haul network and, according to, Lufthansa and its CityLine division have already dumped nearly 780 flights. But Saturday's strike is again directed at long-haul flights, which means a raft of cancelled flights to and from the United States.

The airline is putting what it calls "current travel information" on its Web site at At this time, however, Saturday's cancellations aren't posted. Reuters is covering the story here.

3/19/15, 8:15PM ET, THURSDAY

Allora! (That's Italian for Oy!) Adding to the chaos of the continuing strike in German skies and a first-day-of-spring snowstorm on the U.S. East Coast, Italy's air traffic controllers are planning an all-day strike on Friday. That means about half the scheduled flights to and from Italy won't operate tomorrow. (You can read the blow-by-blow of the flight-cancellation procedure here).

The three U.S. carriers with flights to Italy have posted travel waivers so you can change your plans if you were due to fly to or from Italy. According to, Alitalia has already dropped nearly 200 flights from tomorrow's schedules. It is also showing heavy cancellations at Rome's two airports (Fiumicino and Ciampino), Milan's two airports (Malpensa and Linate) as well the airports in Bologna, Venice, Naples and Catania.

3/18/15, 3PM ET, WEDNESDAY

Depending on your age, you think of Jerry Lewis or Eddie Murphy when you hear the phrase "the nutty professor." But Philadelphia magazine introduces us to Penn State Professor Karen Halnon who may be retiring the title for all time.

On an American Airlines flight from Nicaragua last weekend, Halnon had a politics-inspired meltdown that led to her arrest when she arrived in Miami. But as Philadelphia explains, Halnon has a history of public drunkenness. And in an interview conducted after her release in Miami, Halnon continues her bizarre rants about U.S. policy toward Venezuela and her first-name familiarity with retired Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

The term "there but for the grace" comes to mind. That and "Well, at least I wasn't on a flight with her ..."

3/18/15, 10:30AM ET, WEDNESDAY

It's hard enough being a United Airlines passenger these days, but then there are some of our fellow flyers who make things even worse. A United Boeing 737 headed for Denver on Monday evening diverted back to Washington/Dulles. The reason? According to media reports, a passenger yelling "Jihad!" tried to rush the cockpit and was restrained by other flyers.

Let's skip the cheap, easy joke--maybe he was declaring jihad on United management for the way United has been running lately--and pause for a bit of reflection. The poor guy clearly had some kind of mental incident and he can be seen on a passenger-shot video sobbing and saying "I'm sorry" after he has been restrained. And kudos to the fast-acting flyers who took the guy down, checked him for weapons and explosives and kept the flight safe while the pilot negotiated with air traffic controllers for the return to Dulles.

3/18/15, 10AM ET, WEDNESDAY

Get ready for another series of strikes at Lufthansa today and tomorrow. This one involves the pilots union.

About 700 flights, mostly short-haul within Europe, have been cancelled today. But tomorrow (and late this evening West Coast time), there will be many cancellations of transatlantic flights to/from the United States.

Lufthansa has posted a long list of cancellations. Scroll down on the page to find the transatlantic flights being dumped tomorrow:

As you may recall, Lufthansa dealt with at least ten pilots strikes last year--not to mention several involving non-Lufthansa ground crews at German airports. The immediate issue is retirement and pension benefits, but there is also the long-term issue: Lufthansa's desire to drive down wages to launch lower-costs carriers in Europe and across the Atlantic. It is a messy, very un-Germanic affair and chances are this will not be the last strike this year.

Alternatives? If you must travel, avoid using Lufthansa's Frankfurt and Munich hubs. SkyTeam over Paris or Amsterdam will work. So will Oneworld over Madrid, Heathrow or Helsinki. Even Star Alliance flyers have options: SAS over Copenhagen, Austrian over Vienna, Swiss over Zurich. If you must travel to Germany, KLM offers a good number of connections over Amsterdam, especially to Northern Germany. Air Berlin, a Oneworld carrier based at Berlin/Tegel, will also get you around. Expect the normally efficient Deutsche Bahn rail network to be overloaded the next few days as it handles Lufthansa customers with busted connections.

03/05/15, 12:15PM ET, SUNDAY

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. Back-to-back-to-back storms from Texas to the Eastern Seaboard have made the early part of March a nightmare for business travelers and the airlines that claim to serve them. Click here to see how we covered it.

03/01/15, 12PM ET, SUNDAY

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

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

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. 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.