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понеделник, 22 декември 2008 г.

Winter Storm Snarls Air Travel In US Midwest

December 19, 2008
A winter storm in the US Midwest resulted in widespread flight cancellations and delays, disrupting travel plans for thousands and testing the ability of the newly downsized airline industry to cope with weather-related problems.

Chicago bore the brunt of the snow and ice, which snarled operations at O'Hare and Midway airports. But as the storm headed east, airlines braced for traffic backups.

"Customers scheduled to travel on flights out of our Cleveland and New York hubs and other airports in the Northeast should anticipate delays and some flight cancellations because of the storm," said Continental Airlines spokeswoman Julie King.

The Chicago Aviation Department reported nearly 300 flight cancellations at Chicago's two main airports. At least 500 flights were cancelled at New York's three main airports, most of them at Newark.

American Airlines, which has a hub at O'Hare said it cancelled 45 round-trip flights from O'Hare because of bad weather. Delays ranged from 30 minutes to an hour. The carrier also canceled some flights in New York and Boston in anticipation of winter storms.

"We do thin out flights like that when the weather forecast is certain and we know it will help prevent backups later on," said AMR spokesman Tim Wagner.

US airlines reduced capacity this year to offset high fuel costs and to ensure pricing power as the souring economy erodes travel demand. During the year-end holiday travel season, downsizing brought about a 9 percent reduction of seats for sale, according to the Air Transport Association (ATA), an industry trade group.

As a result, airports are less crowded, but flights are at capacity. The ATA said planes will average 90 percent full during the busiest travel days, December 19 to December 27.

In the last two years, carriers have worked to head off operational disruptions that led to meltdowns at JetBlue Airways in February 2007 and American Airlines in December 2006. In those incidents, weather delays led to major problems that stranded passengers at airports and on grounded aircraft.

Some airlines now cancel flights in anticipation of storms to keep passengers from being stranded at boarding gates. Carriers also are waiving some fees for travelers who need to change plans because of the weather.

Delta Air Lines, for example, is offering refunds to travelers whose flights are canceled or significantly delayed. The airline also allows affected travelers to make one-time changes to their itineraries without fees if they are scheduled to travel to certain locations.

US Airways also is relaxing some of its fees for customers whose plans were impacted by December snow storms.

"The airlines just want to get through this as they do any kind of situation," said Terry Trippler, travel expert at TripplerTravel. "Generally they are very, very generous."

(Reuters)