Flying after the storm? Don’t give up

By | January 25th, 2016

Some storms are overrated. Jonas wasn’t.

Flight cancellations started Friday afternoon and are continuing into Monday. From a traveler and travel agent point of view, not a great weekend.

But delays and cancellations for travelers were not purely storm-related. In many cases, it also depended on what airline you flew.

Bottom line: If you’re still stuck today, don’t give up.

Airlines started canceling flights to and from the East Coast on Friday. Most airports affected by Jonas were completely closed Saturday. And the Washington, D.C., area airports basically stayed closed Sunday, with limited flights Monday.

But in the New York area, things were quite different after the snow stopped falling late Saturday night. United and Southwest basically threw in the towel on flights from Newark and LaGuardia on Sunday, canceling all flights, along with many on Monday. American Airlines and Virgin America did the same, canceling all flights from LaGuardia, Newark and JFK.

One of my clients had to get from the New York area Sunday to Denver for a Monday interview, so I started checking all airlines on a regular basis. Delta seemed to be the slowest to cancel flights, and on Friday I was able to nab a reasonably priced seat on a 6:15 p.m. flight from JFK to Denver. Over the weekend, regular checks of the flight showed it, unlike many others, still on schedule.

We kept checking on Sunday, the day of departure, and sure enough, Delta said the flight would go. At the same time, their site showed some international flights landing at JFK, and starting in the afternoon, flights started leaving to the West Coast, some of them actually on time.

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As it turned out, my client’s flight left about half an hour late for de-icing, but landed only 15 minutes late in Denver, which could have happened on any average travel day. (He did mention his fellow passengers comparing notes on how long they had been on hold to get on the flight.)

Researching further for the purposes of this post, I saw several other Delta flights that departed JFK Sunday afternoon and evening, most of them more or less on time. Surprisingly, perhaps, as they’ve been the butt of long delay jokes, JetBlue got some of their later cross-country flights at least in the air, many of them less than an hour late, and a couple even on time.

So what happened?

Without being privy to what goes on in airline executive offices, my sense is a lot of factors came into play. Some airlines may have decided it wasn’t worth the risk to try to fly, others decided to go for it. Delta has a lot of international flights in and out of JFK, and those routes tend to be more lucrative. But on the other hand, United also has many flights out of Newark to Europe, South America and even Asia. So who knows?

In JetBlue’s case, JFK is a hub, so it may have helped that they had planes and flight attendants in the area.

No doubt, all airlines had their reasons for flying or not flying Sunday to and from the New York area. If there’s a takeaway for the future, however, it’s that the next time there is a major storm, be both realistic and hopeful. Airlines don’t fly when storm conditions make it unsafe But when the storm passes, well, that’s not only a different story altogether, it may well be a different story depending on which airline you ask.

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So before you give up, keep asking.

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