Hurricane Sandy Travel Report Card
While efforts to recover from Hurricane Sandy’s effects continue, hundreds of thousands of people in the northeastern United States are still without electric power and a potentially deadly storm could cause more power failures and flooding in areas that were already devastated by last week’s storm.
The good news was buried in the speed with which the nation’s airlines recovered from the storm. Having used the weekend to recover, it is fair to say that, as of Monday, the nation’s air system was operating normally, with just a few dozen cancellations compared to the 23,000 that resulted from Hurricane Sandy.
That both New York City airports, John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia, were more or less up and running last Thursday is nothing short of noteworthy, given that several hundred thousand airline employees ranging from gate agents to ramp workers to flight attendants were directly impacted by the storm. Yet when I arrived at JFK last Thursday morning for a flight to Los Angeles, I ran into many who still had no power yet were at work helping passengers get to their destinations.
The storm proved to be a challenge for many, of course, given the number of flight cancellations and the need for the airlines to reposition equipment. Some travelers made it home or to their destinations through somewhat circuitous routes but most people who were traveling did make it. Sometimes the biggest challenge was the last mile, as in finding ground transportation from the airport home or to a hotel, given gasoline shortages and snarled traffic.
One reason things went so smoothly: the airlines became proactive early on and cancelled flights well in advance of airport shutdowns. This gave travelers the opportunity (at no cost) to delay their travel, which many did. Others simply cancelled plans completely. The fact that airlines in recent years have been running fewer but fuller flights also helped.
Unlike what many do in such cases, which is to take the train, that wasn’t an option. Amtrak first restored limited service on the Acela Express and Northeast Regional routes that run from Boston to New York to Washington, D.C. on Monday and many of its long-distance routes were back in operation as well.
The chaos I had expected to find at JFK last Thursday hadn’t materialized and my flight this past Sunday to LaGuardia was also uneventful and that says a lot. Still, there’s much work to be done. Twenty-percent of the Frequent Business Traveler family remains without power and heat (over 500,000 customers in the Northeast still don’t have power), long lines remain at the filling station, and the approaching storm could produce sustained winds of 30 to 40 miles per hour (48 to 64 km/h) with gusts of up to 60 mph (96 km/h) in the New York metro area on Wednesday.