NEW YORK — The relentless snow and ice storms this winter have led to the highest number of flight cancellations in more than 25 years, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.
U.S. airlines have canceled more than 75,000 domestic flights since Dec. 1, including more than 14,000 this week. That’s 5.5 percent of the 1.37 million flights scheduled during that period, according to calculations based on information provided by flight-tracking site FlightAware.
It’s the highest total number and highest percent of cancellations since at least the winter of 1987-1988, when the Department of Transportation first started collecting cancellation data.
The nation’s air-traffic system was still recovering Friday from the latest bout of bad weather. Flights were taking off again but thousands of passengers weren’t.
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“This year is off to a brutal start for airlines and travelers,” said FlightAware CEO Daniel Baker. “Not only is each storm causing tens of thousands of cancellations, but there’s been a lot of them.”
And February still has two weeks left.
Mother Nature isn’t entirely to blame. A mix of cost-cutting measures and new government regulations has made airlines more likely to cancel flights and leave fliers scrambling to get to their destination.
There were days this week when more than 70 percent of flights were canceled in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Charlotte, N.C. The world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, was paralyzed Wednesday by ice and snow.
Bradley Voight, 25, was one of those passengers trapped in Atlanta after his Spirit Airlines flight to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Wednesday was canceled. After a night sleeping in the airport, he eventually got home late Thursday.
“It was fun because of the people I met, but it was terrible because of why I met them,” he said Friday.
A new rule implemented last month increases the amount of rest pilots need, which made it harder to operate an irregular schedule. To have well-rested pilots, airlines cancel more flights.
The airlines do lose money by canceling flights when travelers demand refunds. United recently said that early January storms cost it $80 million in lost revenue.
But the sting isn’t as bad as you might think.
Jim Corridore, an airline analyst with S&P Capital IQ, notes United also saved millions in fuel and salaries by not having to fly the canceled flights. And some level of storm-related expenses is already built into airline budgets.
“We’re not going to have this type of winter every winter,” Corridore says.