Monster US storm impacts airlines

Thousands of flights cancelled, agents scramble to help stranded passengers

Airlines have been dealt another unpredictable blow as the massive storm to hit one half of the United States forced them to cancel more than 6,300 flights in a single day yesterday and 12,000 overall, according to the tracking site Flightaware. Chicago saw the most snow in 40 years and many of the cancellations came at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, the country’s second busiest airport. American, Delta and United all suspended operations there.

An IATA report released yesterday confirms that the bad winter weather in North America and Europe has “put a dent in the industry’s recovery.” In December, the severe conditions in Europe weather cut total global traffic by 1 percent. Airline shares already hit by the unrest in Egypt took a further hit. “This has really been a major shutdown,” Reuters quoted Terry Trippler, owner of the travel website, as saying.

“Other than September 11, I haven’t seen it shut down to this degree at all.” Operations at airports in Philadelphia, New York and Boston have also taken a battering. Travel agents are working overtime to help hundreds of thousands of stranded passengers. Airlines tend to set aside funds in their budgets for unforeseen weather-related cancellations and delays, but large-scale disruptions like these can impact quarterly earnings.

Delta has already said that the winter weather will shave $45 million off fourth-quarter earnings, United Continental $10 million. The winter snow and ice storm has affected travellers over a vast area, from New Mexico to Maine. Wind chills cut temperatures to minus 34 to 45 degrees Celsius. Major interstate highways were closed, interstate and commuter rail services suspended. However, the Amtrak service between Philadelphia and New York has since reopened.