Winter

A Wintry Mess, Yes, but Your Flight May Not Be Canceled


Crews spray deicing solution onto an American Airlines 737 before departure at Dallas-Fort Worth International airport on Nov. 25

Photograph by Brandon Wade/AP Photo

Crews spray deicing solution onto an American Airlines 737 before departure at Dallas-Fort Worth International airport on Nov. 25

Before they tuck into turkey, millions of Americans will be wondering if the weather will affect their flight tomorrow. In the East, a winter storm that originated in Texas is threatening heavy rains along the coast Wednesday and snow further inland.

The accompanying high winds and low clouds could snarl flights from Washington to Boston, and at least four airlines—Delta (DAL), United (UAL), US Airways (LCC), and JetBlue Airways (JBLU)—have dropped their fees for ticket changes to allow some travelers with flights today and Wednesday to change their plans. Few were interested. “People have made these plans for quite a while, so they really want to try to stick to it,” says Todd Lehmacher, a spokesman for US Airways, which allowed changes for travel to 39 U.S. and Canadian cities.

Given that most of the larger cities affected by the weather—Atlanta, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, and Washington—are expected to see rain, not snow, airlines are likely to take a cautious approach to early cancellations. “I think they’re hoping they can get through the day with mostly delays rather than mass cancellations,” says Daniel Baker, chief executive of FlightAware, a flight-tracking company in Houston.

As of midday Tuesday, airlines had not made any large, prophylactic cancellations for flights on Wednesday, as they often do when heavy snow is expected. Delta could have a few “tactical cancels” Wednesday in cities where heavy snow may affect regional flights to the airline’s hubs, spokesman Morgan Durrant said.

One reason flight times may be postponed is that the Federal Aviation Administration is likely to impose arrival and departure delays at airports affected by the weather. The agency can order ground stops for airports experiencing the worst conditions. That means all flights to and from those airports must wait for a clearance. The National Weather Service has issued a wind advisory for the New York City metro region and southern Connecticut from midnight to 2 p.m. EST Wednesday.

Bachman is an associate editor for Businessweek.com.

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    (Delta Air Lines Inc)
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