Dec. 18, 2009— -- Travelers who are heading out of town early for the Christmas holiday are going to have to deal with a major storm threatening to bring heavy snowfall to the mid-Atlantic states and possibly causing major headaches for the airlines.
As of now, the airlines are closely watching the storm and holding storm conference calls to plot their moves. A handful of flights have already been canceled with more expected. Given the deteriorating weather conditions, the airlines know they won't be able to get every flight out, so they are "thinning" their schedules.
Airlines are also starting to institute their "no change fee" rules for bad weather. If travelers want to change their flights, they can generally do so without penalties. Some will allow that through Saturday, some through flights on Sunday.
The storm could not come at a worse time of year for travelers. Flights are very full and getting more packed as Christmas approaches. American Airlines said that its flights Friday and Saturday are already at 80 percent capacity. That does not leave much room on the planes for passengers displaced from canceled flights.
By Friday afternoon, American had canceled a flight or two Raleigh-Durham, N.C, and in Richmond, Va. and three of the six flights that were scheduled to land Friday night at Washington's National airport. At Washington's Dulles, American canceled four out of nine evening flights. All those planes were supposed to have spent the night at the Washington airports, possibly meaning more cancelations or delays Saturday morning. Two flights out of Philadelphia have been canceled and the airline said it is monitoring conditions for New York and Boston.
USAirways canceled four flights Friday evening and nine for Saturday at National. Delta said it is "proactively reducing flight schedules to and from affected airports to ensure delays are minimized during the storm." The airline is also allowing customers to change their flights without penalty.
Airlines 'Thin' Schedules Before Storm
Delta will cancel all its flights from the three Washington airports and from Richmond and Philadelphia on Saturday. The airline expects to resume operations at those airports Sunday morning or afternoon.
In New York, Delta will run operations through early afternoon Saturday then start cancelling flights. The goal at JFK is to keep all the international flights up and running. Delta has already cancelled 75 flights system-wide. There's little doubt that number will at least double as time goes on. This includes flights by Northwest Airlines (which is now part of Delta) and regional carrier Comair.
The hope is to keep most planes out of the hard hit airports and then ferry them in to pick up passengers once the weather passes.
JetBlue is also offering such changes for passengers flying to Baltimore, Charlotte, N.C., Raleigh/Durham, N.C.; Richmond and Dulles. As of Friday afternoon, New York passengers were not yet offered the same deal.
United has also already canceled dozens of flights for Saturday but did not release specifics.
As always, check with your airline for the most up-to-the-date information.