Air travelers faced chaos Monday in the Northeast, thanks to a major winter blizzard that grounded thousands of airline flights even before the first snowflakes had fallen in the region.
Airlines reacted to a major snowstorm that’s expected to wallop parts of the Northeast by cancelling more than 5,200 flights through Wednesday. Of those, at least 3,200 were already announced by Sunday – a day before the storm’s first flakes fell along the East Coast.
Nearly every big airline also said they would waive change fees for customers scheduled to fly into dozens of airports the storm’s path.
As of 10:10 a.m., more than 2,370 flights had been canceled nationwide for Monday and another 2,725 on Tuesday, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware . And, even for Wednesday, nearly 120 flights had already been canceled as airlines try to anticipate the storm’s extended impact on their operations. In total, that put the airlines’ collective storm-related cancellations at more than 5,200 for Monday through Wednesday.
The first big storm of the year may drop up to 3 feet of snow on Boston and New York before it ends Tuesday, with freezing rain and strong wind gusts possibly reaching 55 to 65 mph. Blizzard and winter storm warnings have been issued from Maryland through Maine and into Canada. Up to 58 million people could be put into the deep freeze.
“I want everyone to understand that we are facing — most likely — one of the largest snowstorms in the history of this city,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
That’s saying something. The city’s biggest snowstorm was in 2006, when 26.9 inches of snow fell. That’s second to the 25.8-inch snowfall in December 1947.
As for the poor weather, the region’s major air hubs were expected to see snow develop Monday, with conditions worsening into the evening. Tuesday was expected to be even worse – so bad that all flights may end up being grounded at some of the busiest airports.
American and United, the nation’s two biggest carriers, each say they plan to do just that.
American, the nation’s biggest carrier after merging with US Airways, tells Today in the Sky that it will have “very limited operations tomorrow (Tuesday) in the Northeast.” The airline adds its current plan is “to suspend operations late this afternoon” and all day Tuesday at Philadelphia, Newark Liberty, New York LaGuardia, New York JFK and Boston.”
American says it hopes to resume operations at those airports on Wednesday morning. Both Philadelphia and New York JFK are major hubs for the carrier, meaning disruptions are likely to ripple throughout American’s U.S. route map.
It’s a similar story for United, the nation’s second-busiest carrier. United said in a Sunday evening statement that it “will limit operations beginning Monday evening at our Newark hub” as well as at New York’s two other big airports: LaGuardia and JFK.
Newark is one of United’s biggest hubs, making it likely that the fight disruption there will disrupt the carrier’s schedule in other cities.
FlightAware CEO Daniel Baker thinks other carriers may end up halting all Tuesday operations at some Northeast airports too.
“We expect … virtually all NYC flights to be cancelled tomorrow,” he predicted in a Monday morning e-mail.