Snow Strikes Again: Travel Delays Mount

Southern snowstorm has caused numerous flight cancellations for Delta, AirTran.

January 10, 2011, 11:51 AM

Jan. 10, 2011— -- A pair of nasty winter snow storms is creating yet another travel nightmare, with airlines canceling nearly 2,000 flights across the country and icy roads making driving treacherous for countless travelers.

From Texas to the Carolinas, unusual amounts of snow and ice are bringing travel for some to a standstill.

The biggest impact is being felt in Atlanta, where six inches of snow caused Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport -- the world's business airport in terms of passengers -- to essentially shut down. The airport is technically open and the runways are operational but most of the flights in and out of Atlanta have been canceled.

Airlines had canceled 725 flights yesterday, 2,207 as of noon today and 327 and growing for Tuesday, according to flight tracking company FlightAware.

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Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines alone has canceled 1,450 flights today, or about 25 percent of its regular schedule due to the snow, ice and freezing rain.

AirTran canceled all flights in and out of Atlanta, its largest hub, due to what it is calling a "historic winter storm."

"To put it in perspective, the city of Atlanta has six snow trucks. We're just not used this type of weather down here," said AirTran spokesman Christopher White.

Overall, the airline scrubbed 376 flights today -- about half of its operations, White said.

"The rest of our network is running beautiful," White said. "If you are flying from LaGuardia to Orlando, you're in great shape today."

AirTran decided to halt Atlanta operations because "the roads are just treacherous down here," White said, and the airline was concerned about the safety of its crew and passengers. The decision also helps it prepare to return to normal operations Tuesday.

While it took the airlines days to recover from a Christmas blizzard that paralyzed the New York area, the recovery should be quicker after this storm. The Christmas and New Year's rush is over and the start of January is traditionally the slowest time of the year for travel.

"Generally, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday are slow days in the system and that will help us," White said. "Our planes are never empty but they are much less full than they were during the Christmas weather issue in the Northeast."

Most of the major airlines have issued fee waivers, allowing travelers to change their itineraries at no cost to better restore the system. But that still doesn't mean you are likely to get a reservation agent on the phone easily.

AirTran has three call centers -- all in Georgia -- and put up staff in area hotels last night so they could get to work. White said that travelers can still expect long waits and he encourages passengers to rebook online instead.

Daniel Baker, CEO of FlightAware said that Atlanta is not equipped to handle this type of storm.

"We're going to see cancelations to and from cities that have nothing to do with Atlanta," Baker said. "For instance, you might see a flight from Minneapolis to Los Angles canceled because the plane is stuck in Atlanta."

His company just launched a new website for tracking flight cancelations that this morning showed Delta, AirTran and then U.S. Airways leading the way in flight cancelations. After Atlanta, the largest number of cancelations came out of Charlotte, N.C., a major hub for U.S. Airways.

The storm is expected to head up the East Coast by midweek, threatening Philadelphia, New York and Boston with up to 12 inches of snow by late Tuesday and into Wednesday. That could cause more major delays for U.S. Airways, Delta, American, Continental and JetBlue.

And if that isn't enough, out west Denver received heavy snow and by today, that storm was moving toward Kansas City.

"People are going to see cancelations and delays they weren't expecting," Baker said.

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