Airlines preemptively cancel 1,000 flights ahead of blizzard

3:25 PM, Feb 7, 2013   |    comments
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by Ben Mutzabaugh, USA TODAY

Airlines have instituted flexible rebooking waivers and are preemptively canceling hundreds of flights ahead of a major winter storm. The storm has spawn blizzard warnings and is forecast to dump up to two feet of snow on parts of the Northeast Friday and Saturday.

"We're seeing the airlines start their pre-emptive storm related cancellations this afternoon," Mark Duell, Vice President-Operations at FlightAware, says in an Thursday (Feb. 7) e-mail to Today in the Sky.

Already, as of 2:45 p.m. ET on Thursday, more than 1,000 U.S. flights have been canceled for Friday, according to FlightAware. The bulk of that total comes at Northeast airports likely to see severe weather.

Among those is Newark Liberty, which tops the list with more than 490 of its Friday flights already canceled. United Airlines, which operates a major hub at Newark, has axed 365 mainline flights Friday as well as dozens of others operated by its regional affiliates, as of 3 p.m. ET.

"We expect all the majors to have announced a significant chunk by this evening," FlightAware's Duell adds.

Count JetBlue among those.

"We're keeping a close eye on the impending winter storm expected to impact the Northeast and New England regions tomorrow and are planning our operations accordingly," JetBlue spokesman Mateo Lleras says in a Thursday afternoon e-mail to Today in the Sky. "To date, we've proactively cancelled 640 flights in this area and will continue to monitor and adjust our operations as needed."

Other airports already seeing significant preemptive cancellation totals for Friday are Boston Logan (121), Chicago (O'Hare 116) and New York LaGuardia (89), according to FligthAware.

Friday's cancellations come on top of a more muted Thursday cancellation tally from the storm. reports 134 flights have been canceled at Chicago O'Hare through 3 p.m. ET Thursday. Nearly 50 have been canceled at Toronto's Pearson International.

Delays at O'Hare are averaging about 90 minutes, according to the Federal Aviation Administration's flight delay map. The agency lists "snow" and ice" as the cause.

Flexible rebooking rules
Most airlines' policies focused on Northeast cities, but two airlines - United and Southwest - also included a few Midwest airports, where wintry weather is forecast on Thursday before the storm moves East.

Still, the worst weather is expected in Northeast, where two feet of snow or more are forecast by Saturday evening in some areas of New England. Heavy snow and severe winds also are possible into Saturday for the New York City area and its delay-prone air hubs.

Delta was among the airlines to relax its rules, saying fliers scheduled to fly to nearly two dozen cities from Maine to Pennsylvania on Friday or Saturday would be permitted to make a one-time change to their travel schedules without the standard fee.

"Delta is closely monitoring conditions along the storm's forecast path and encourages customers to consider moving up, postponing or re-routing their travel to avoid possible inconvenience from expected flight delays," the airline said in announcing its winter-weather policy.

Delta's waived-fee policy mirrors that of the other big airlines. American, Delta, United, US Airways and most other big carriers charge $150 or more for changing tickets - a fee that comes in addition to any difference in fare that might result.

Low-cost carrier Southwest - which flies more domestic passengers than any other U.S. carrier - does not charge a change fee, but said Wednesday that customers at 12 airports would be able to make a change with no recalculation of their fares.

Southwest's policy covers certain passengers ticketed to fly to Albany, Boston, Chicago Midway, Hartford, Manchester (N.H.) and Providence, though that list could grow depending on the storm's path and ferocity. The policy at Southwest subsidiary AirTran also covers Portland, Maine.

JetBlue, one of the busiest airlines in the Northeast, is waiving fees at a dozen airports because of the storm. JetBlue operates its two biggest hubs at New York JFK and Boston, airports that are both in the storm's path.

Last updated 3 p.m. ET. Next update: By 6:30 p.m. ET

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