Airline travel in Northeast slowed again by snowstorm

By David Koenig
Associated Press / January 28, 2011

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For the third time in a month, a winter storm in the Northeast left airlines and their passengers scrambling to deal with mass flight cancellations and long delays.

The storm dumped more snow than forecasters had predicted, closing runways and clogging roads leading to airports.

About 1,500 passengers were stranded overnight at Philadelphia International Airport, according to an airport spokeswoman. A foot and a half of snow in New York virtually shut down LaGuardia and Kennedy airports for much of the day.

Airline officials, however, expected the storm to cause fewer hassles than major winter blasts in late December and mid-January because of lighter traffic.

At least 1,600 flights were canceled, according to the flight-tracking service FlightAware. When a blizzard hit the same part of the country in late December, more than 10,000 flights were canceled in three days.

The airlines were allowing passengers scheduled to fly to or from the Northeast to delay their trips a few days without getting socked by a ticket-change fee, which is usually $150 for domestic travel.

While airlines are operating with fuller flights than a year ago thanks to a modest recovery in travel demand, planes are typically less full in late January than in December. That was expected to make it easier to rebook travelers — in sharp contrast to late December, when it took some passengers several days to get home.

Mark Wilson, a marketing executive from Portland, Ore., intended to fly home Wednesday, night but his flight out of Newark, N.J., was canceled. So was the flight that the airline booked him on yesterday morning.

“It looks like I’ll be going home on Friday,’’ Wilson said. “There’s not much point in getting stressed out about it because it’s weather.’’