Hurricane Sandy Deals A Body Blow To Air Travel
The aviation world is used to cleaning up the delays their schedules that result from bad storms. But in the case of New York‘s major airports, an actual clean up from Hurricane Sandy is needed before they can reopen. And the residual damage to both airports and schedules may continue to ripple across the air system for days to come.
Flooding from the storm closed all four big airports — LaGuardia, JFK International, Newark International and Teterboro, which handles private flights. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said JFK is likely to reopen on Wednesday, but it isn’t known when LaGuardia can reopen because of “extensive damage” from the storm, according to the Wall Street Journal. There also isn’t a date yet when Newark will reopen.
Late Wednesday, Delta Air Lines said it expected to resume limited flights on Wednesday from JFK, and that it would begin flying from LaGuardia on Thursday, a forecast that seems optimistic given the flooding and other problems at the low-lying airport.
David J. Barger, the CEO of JetBlue Airways, said on CNBC that JFK might allow flights ferrying aircraft and crew members as soon as Tuesday night. Service there could begin Wednesday, he said, and flights could return to LaGuardia on Thursday. Barger said he was aware of the skepticism about the LaGuardia return, but said the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was making a determined effort to restore service.
Barger said JetBlue planned to begin “spooling up” its schedule over Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, so it could position planes and crews in the right places. One hurdle for his airline is that many New York area crew members use public transportation, such as the subway, to get to work. But if they could not reach the airports, Barger said JetBlue had contingency plans.
The East Coast is vitally important to the nation’s air system and it’s also been the source of many of the delays that have caused aviation gridlock over the years. It’s one thing simply for LaGuardia or JFK to be backed up, but to be completely closed creates an entirely new kind of headache for the airlines. Jet Blue tweeted a photo of just how bad things look at LaGuardia, and its blog has even more stunning shots.
To be sure, many airlines were well-prepared for Sandy, whose impact was widely predicted to be devastating. More than 16,000 flights have been canceled over the past few days because of the storm, according to Flightstats.com, and cancellations are likely to continue through this week, at least, especially if it takes a while for LaGuardia to reopen.
While the New York airports have gotten the most attention, there are also widespread cancellations in Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and Boston. And, because cancellations work both ways, the lack of flights east is backing up operations at major hubs such as Denver, San Francisco, Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta and Dallas. Residual winds from Sandy also are leading to delays elsewhere, especially Chicago (see FlightStats’ delay map here).
For a number of airlines, it isn’t as simple as getting airplanes out of hangars and pulling them back up to the gates. Jet Blue, dispatched its fleet to airports around the country to get planes out of harms’ way. Other airlines grounded their planes at their hubs. The move is meant to keep expensive planes safe, but it also means the airlines then have to put the pieces of the aviation puzzle back together.
But there is a silver lining: the period between Labor Day and the week before Thanksgiving is one of the slowest air travel times of the year. Planes aren’t quite as packed, so passengers can be rebooked more easily than in the peak of summer travel or around the holidays. Still, if you hold a plane ticket this week, you’ll need to be patient and flexible.