More flights have been grounded by the combination of Snowmageddons and polar vortexes this winter than since the Department of Transportation started tracking flight cancellations in 1987, according to Time Magazine. In one blizzard-filled week in February, 14,000 flights bit the dust.
The Daily Circuit spoke with two close observers about the problem. While not offering excuses, they did suggest some explanations and silver linings:
Really, the terminal is pretty comfy
"We have cots and floor mats and so forth that we make available to people to sleep overnight in the terminal facility. They can circulate through the building all night. We also ask our various concessionaires, food and beverage operators in particular, to extend their hours and open up earlier, or stay open later in the evening to accommodate food and beverage needs of the traveling public. And those prices are not inflated ... so we try to control the pricing and make it as pleasant an experience as we possibly can. Even though we know it's uncomfortable, it's not being at home or in a hotel, but it is comfortable and it's pleasant. We darken the building down and make it quiet and do the best we can overnight." (Jeff Hamiel, head of the Metropolitan Airports Commission)
Maybe the cancellation is 'good customer service'
"They don't want to send 10 airplanes into [Dallas-Fort Worth] when they know there's going to be an ice storm three hours from now and it's going to get them stuck there. So they'll proactively cancel there, and that's good customer service. Another thing they look at is crew time. Are we going to have enough crew time if we send it there, and the crew gets stuck for two hours waiting to take off, are we going to run out of crew time later on?" (Mike Boyd, aviation consultant)
Better to wait inside than outside
"The FAA has basically said, at the direction of Congress, we should not have people held hostage on airplanes for extended periods of time. We've heard the horror stories about the bathroom facilities being filled up and people not being able to move for many, many hours while waiting for the aircraft to depart. Rather than put them in that situation, where they're kind of locked into this contained environment, I would prefer to have people in the terminal building and make those judgments intelligently with the airline companies. ... We do not want people sitting on airplanes on the tarmac for hours and hours, waiting to depart, only to be disappointed when the aircraft can't take off." (Jeff Hamiel)
MSP has a reputation for good snow removal
"In Minneapolis, we enjoy a very fine reputation ... we have a reputation for remaining the airport that will be open. We're oftentimes the diversion airport for Chicago. When conditions are poor both in Chicago and Minneapolis, Chicago may close, or become more congested, while Minneapolis is still accommodating arrivals and departures. ... Our reputation nationally is that we manage snow removal and snow operations very efficiently." (Jeff Hamiel)
In a hub system, weather here affects flights there
"You've got to be careful with this. I believe there's something that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai that said if there's going to be a thunderstorm, it will only be over O'Hare on a crowded Friday afternoon. You can't prepare for a thunderstorm, and that's the problem. You can't prepare for a line of thunderstorms 50 miles west or 50 miles east of O'Hare that stop departures and arrivals. That's something that's out of their control. It just seems when you're at a connecting hub — which is an efficient way of running an airline, like Minneapolis is — when there's a problem at that hub, you've got a lot of people standing on the ground and you're stuck with them." (Mike Boyd)
LEARN MORE ABOUT FLIGHT CANCELLATIONS:
As airlines continue to consolidate and weather patterns grow increasingly erratic, a Time Magazine report looked at the intricate world of airline cancellations:
But the weather alone does not explain why on any given day, tens of thousands of passengers may find themselves stranded and scrambling to make their way home. The cancellation crisis also reflects how drastically the airline business has changed in the past decade. After 9/11, after the Great Recession, after bankruptcies and consolidations, the airlines have bounced back, stronger than ever but also more disciplined. Serial mergers have left Americans with just three legacy carriers, which means redundant or unprofitable flights are scrapped and planes are more crowded. Tight schedules and turnarounds mean a thunderstorm blowing through Newark, N.J., can radiate cancellations across the country, leaving customers stranded when other planes are too full to accommodate them. And new government regulations designed to prevent passengers from being held captive on the tarmac carry such hefty fines that airlines are more likely than ever before to cancel delayed flights.