Another Monday and another winter storm is causing problems for air travelers.
A massive storm is dumping snow and ice throughout the Northeast region and, according to Weather.com, may leave behind up to 2 feet of new snow in and around Albany, N.Y., and central and eastern Massachusetts.
As of 10:40 a.m. ET, flight-tracking service FlightAware was showing more than 1,800 flight cancellations within, into or out of the United States for Monday.
FlightAware also was reporting that, due to snow and ice, inbound flights at Newark Liberty International Airport were being delayed at their origin airport an average of 4 hours and 13 minutes, those bound for JFK were being delayed an average of 3 hours and 35 minutes, and those headed for LaGuardia airport were being delayed by an average of 6 hours and 45 minutes.
Airlines began posting travel alerts and change fee waivers over the weekend, with several updating their advisories on Sunday evening to offer travelers full refunds and/or the ability to shift their plans to avoid traveling on Feb. 9 and 10 through up to two dozen cities.T
he scenes have become familiar at airports this winter: snow swirling amid planes stacked up on the tarmac, passengers whiling away hours of delays, making exasperated calls to reservation agents.
Winter hit travelers with a vengeance once again on Monday. In Boston, where more than a foot of snow fell, over two-thirds of flights were canceled at Logan International Airport. At La Guardia, in New York, it was more than half, with about a third of flights called off at Newark and a quarter at Kennedy.
But unlike last year, when large portions of the Midwest and East Coast were paralyzed by the unusually harsh weather, this winter’s delays have been concentrated in the Northeast. And for those travelers who have been hit by the delays, they have been hit hard.
Patti Welk-Thompson was stranded for three days in Orlando after a convention early this month, trying to get home to Delaware.
She spent two hours in the check-in line at the airport, only to find that her flight to Delaware had been canceled. The next available flight was three days later.
“So I booked it, and then I immediately went on my phone and checked other airlines and they were all sold out because of the storm,” said Ms. Welk-Thompson, a saleswoman for a craft supplies company. “I thought, ‘This doesn’t look good.’ ”
She was one of thousands of snowstorm-struck fliers who have had to book and then rebook flights, scramble to find hotels, make up for lost time at work and spend hours in limbo.
Nowhere is the effect more concentrated than in the Northeast Corridor, including Washington and Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston.
“It makes a huge amount of difference when any one of those four major metro areas are socked in,” said Bart Littlefield, vice president for business development at the flight tracker FlightView.
About 10 percent of January’s domestic air traffic flowed through the five airports that serve just three of those regions — Philadelphia, New York and Boston — according to the flight-tracking site FlightAware.
And the delays have added up. In January, 10.5 percent of flights at La Guardia Airport were canceled, as were more than 7 percent of flights at Newark Liberty International Airport and almost 5 percent at John F. Kennedy International Airport. By comparison, just under 1 percent of flights at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport were canceled in January.
The two winter storms that hit the Northeast in late January and early February also took a financial toll, costing airlines a collective $53 million and travelers an estimated $510 million, once factors like additional travel time, unexpected hotel stays and lost productivity were accounted for, said Tulinda Larsen, president of masFlight, an aviation consulting firm. But it is still nothing like last winter, when that figure reached $6 billion, Ms. Larsen said.
Airlines are quicker to cancel flights, sometimes a few days in advance, if snowstorms are forecast, said Ryan Jorgenson, an aviation data analyst at FlightAware.
“We’re seeing the airlines over the years become more proactive when it comes to these events,” he said. “A lot of times you’ll see the airlines cancel all their flights.”
While airlines do incur losses when they cancel a flight — about $6,000 for each domestic flight on a larger plane, according to Ms. Larsen — they want to avoid stranding passengers on the tarmac for more than three hours, which can bring fines from the Transportation Department under a rule that went into effect in 2010.
But those cancellations can sometimes make customers feel as if they have been left out in the cold. “It really is more painful to the customer on their end,” Mr. Jorgenson said.
This was the situation Biana Pérez faced. Ms. Pérez, a Florida native now living in Boston, was delayed for hours when successive storms forced her to rebook her departure once, and her return twice, on a recent trip to visit family.
It wasn’t for lack of effort that she was delayed. “I felt like if I wasn’t proactive about it, I would be stuck,” she said.
With improved technology and more lead time, airlines have done better at warning travelers that their flights are canceled before they leave for the airport, experts say.
“With all the media they have available, they can get info out sooner,” Mr. Jorgenson said. Emails, mobile apps and other real-time notifications make it easier to contact passengers.
The type of flight being canceled is also a factor in how far-reaching the impact will be, Ms. Larsen said. While regional airlines usually account for about 60 percent of cancellations, compared with 40 percent for bigger mainline planes, a severe storm last month that struck New York and New England saw a roughly 50-50 ratio.
And bigger planes being grounded means more travelers affected. “That has made this year different than previous years,” Ms. Larsen said.
In addition, planes of all sizes are fuller than ever before, delivering more revenue to airlines, but more headaches to travelers trying to find an empty seat when they need to rebook. “When flights are canceled, load factors are so high on airplanes it takes a long time to accommodate passengers, and that’s a real problem,” said Darryl Jenkins, chairman of the American Aviation Institute.