Flight Cancellations Hit 25-Year Record, Cost Travelers Billions

A snowy JFK

By Jesse Sokolow on 17 February 2014
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The airline industry has seen its highest number of cancellations in 25 years, due in large part to the number of winter storms that the U.S. has been experiencing so far this year.  In the past 30 days alone, there have been over 53,000 cancellations and more than 153,200 delays according to FlightStats, a flight tracking service.

Last month, masFlight, an aviation data company, estimated that January’s wintry weather cost airlines between $75 million and $125 million.  In addition, last month’s storms cost travelers an estimated $2.5 billion.

However, many travelers stranded in airports this winter may be happier than they would have been five years ago.  In December 2009, the Department of Transportation instituted a three-hour limit for tarmac delays, handing out fines to airlines violating the regulations of up to $27,500 per passenger.  The new rule came after hundreds of JetBlue Airways passengers were stranded on planes on the tarmac for up to ten and a half hours at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on February 14, 2007, following heavy snowfall and ice accumulation.

The new law and hefty fines have made airlines more inclined to cancel flights when inclement weather is predicted or occurring.  The first year after the law took effect, there were 20 tarmac delays of over three hours reported in the country, compared to 693 the previous year.  So while many travelers have been left stranded at airports this winter, they should at least be thankful that they were not left stranded on planes sitting on the tarmac.

Record snowfall, in particular on the east coast of the United States, has helped contribute to the high number of cancellations.  New York City has received a total of 54” of snow so far this season, making it the ninth snowiest winter since 1869.

In Philadelphia, there has been 54.1” so far, making it the 5th snowiest season for the city.  Boston has had 49.4”, which is 21.2” above average.

In Washington, D.C., 15.2” has fallen so far, 3.2” above average for the nation’s capital.  Meanwhile Baltimore has seen 24.8”, which is 10.5” above average.

If you think this is a lot of snow, it pales in comparison to a normal season in upstate New York.  Syracuse, New York, which is one of the five cities in the “Golden Snowball” competition for the most snow in a season (the others are Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, and Rochester) has seen 95.2” so far this season, compared to 62.4”, 77.8”, 94.8”, and 75.4” respectively.  The average snowfall for Syracuse is 89.8”, and its all-time record was set in the 1992-1993 season with a total of 192.1”.  Buffalo, however, holds the record for the group, with 199.4” in the 1976-1977 season.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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