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Snowstorm hurts airline travel in Midwest, Northeast

10:10 PM, Jan 2, 2014   |    comments
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USA TODAY - As the holiday season draws to a close this weekend, millions of Americans traveling by air or ground Friday face major disruptions as a huge snowstorm rages its way from the Midwest through the Northeast.

Snow is expected to fall up to 2 inches per hour in places, with wind gusts to 50 mph in a storm that will impact millions of travelers or commuters on Friday, according to the AccuWeather.com forecast. Some parts of New England will see up a foot or more of snow, according to AccuWeather.

By 8:30 p.m. Thursday, airlines canceled 2,923 flights and delayed 9,103 flights, according to FlightStats.com, which tracks flights.

Airports suffering the worst are Chicago O'Hare International, which had 822 cancellations; Newark Liberty International, which had 424 cancellations; and Boston's Logan International, which had 337 cancellations, according to FlightStats. Also in the New York area, a major hub for airlines, LaGuardia had 257 cancellations and John F. Kennedy International had 185.

Boston's airport said it would not handle any flights after 8:30 p.m. Thursday. The storm's impact was felt as far west as sunny Los Angeles, where airport officials said at least 43 departing flights and 10 arriving flights were cancelled.

Driving conditions were also forecast to become treacherous along the Interstate 95 corridor from New York to Boston. In Massachusetts, the state Department of Transportation had deployed about 1,900 pieces of snow- and ice-removal equipment statewide, including 366 snow plows in the Boston area, said spokesman Michael Verseckes.

With temperatures likely staying below 20 degrees north of Washington, D.C., the chemicals that road crews use to melt snow and ice will be less effective, said Christopher Vaccaro, spokesman for the National Weather Service.

Amtrak announced a reduced schedule Friday because of the storm for Northeast Regional and Acela trains between Boston and Washington, D.C., especially in New England. But trains in Pennsylvania and Maine are expected to run on normal schedules.

"I think a lot of transportation companies are being proactive in understanding the disruptive nature of this storm," said Vaccaro with the weather service. "It's to let you know to stay safe, stay home, and we'll let you know to reschedule another time."

Airlines have begun to waive fees for travelers changing their plans. Airlines suggest checking with their websites for details about specific flights.

Jeanenne Tornatore, senior editor at Orbitz.com, an online travel agency, said airlines waive fees to encourage travelers to book a new flight and avoid running into a cancellation.

"That will get things flowing back to normal even better after this storm is through," she said.

Tornatore suggested travelers prepare by packing necessities in carry-on bags, to avoid checking a phone charger or medication. She also suggested loading phone numbers for airlines and travel agents into a smartphone, and along with apps for same-day hotel reservations.

"Sometimes getting on the phone with someone can make the difference between getting on the next available flight and getting in line with everybody else," Tornatore said.

Boston's Logan airport announced through Twitter that service would be reduced overnight Thursday, with the last departure about 8:30 p.m. The airport will remain open during the storm, but the reduce flights will allow for clearing runways and taxiways "in anticipation of service resuming late Friday morning," the airport said.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees JFK, LaGuardia and Newark airports, has 1,000 workers and contractors to deal with winter weather in 12-hour shifts around the clock. The agency has more than 200 pieces of snow equipment, hundreds of thousands of gallons and anti-icer chemicals for planes.

Airlines getting the brunt of the storm were ExpressJet, a regional carrier for American, Delta and United, which had 455 cancellations; American Eagle, which had 232; Cape Air, a regional carrier based in New England, which had 184; United, which had 154; and JetBlue, which had 152, according to FlightStats.

Airlines offered waivers for a range of airports, typically for changing flights from Thursday or Friday to different flights through Sunday or Wednesday.

American Airlines, for example, is offering changes to certain flights Thursday and Friday, affecting fliers across Pennsylvania and New York states, and up to Boston. US Airways flights stretched across Pennsylvania to Portland, Maine.

United's waivers extend from Milwaukee through Chicago and across the Northeast. JetBlue's advisory extends from Pittsburgh to Washington and up to Boston.

"Delays and cancellations as a result of slowed traffic in and out of our Eastern cities are likely," said Tamara Young, a JetBlue spokeswoman. "So we want to make sure our customers have options available to them."

(Copyright © 2013 USA TODAY)

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