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Winter Weather Makes Air Travel a Washout This Week

Wild winter weather is causing a crush of misery for air travelers. First it was snowy Hercules. Now a scary so-called “polar vortex” is icing up runways and grounding flights across the country. And, to make matters even more convoluted, some airlines are blaming the government—as well as the weather—for this month’s particularly harsh rash of flight delays and cancellations.

As of Monday afternoon, almost 10,000 flights in the U.S. have been delayed, and roughly 4,000 flights were grounded. Sunday saw similar numbers. For now, airports in the Midwest are seeing the brunt of cancellations as the polar vortex moves through. Tomorrow, though, airports in the Northeast will likely top the cancellation list.

JetBlue announced today that it will reduce operations at Boston Logan, JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark’s Liberty Airport through tomorrow. There are two reasons JetBlue is grounding many of its flights in the Northeast Corridor. First, the aftereffects of winter storm Hercules continue to upend flight schedules. (It often takes a week or longer for airlines to get back on schedule, ensuring major itinerary disruptions.) Additionally, the face-freezing polar vortex now barreling toward the Northeast has the potential to make air travel extremely dangerous on Tuesday.

JetBlue is blaming its woes not only on the elements but on new pilot fatigue rules that went into effect over the weekend; the veracity of this excuse is debatable, though. U.S. airlines have had several years to prepare for the rule change, which, in short, extends mandatory rest periods for pilots. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, airlines have already increased pilot staffing by 5 percent in preparation for the new regulations. There has been plenty of time for the industry to prepare for this.

Accountability aside, the fiasco that is U.S. air travel right now should be somewhat better by mid-week. According to a statement from JetBlue, “Beginning at 1 p.m. ET today, we’ll reduce operations at JFK, LaGuardia, Newark, and Boston through 10 a.m. ET Tuesday. At that time, we’ll gradually ramp up again—we intend to be 100 percent operational by 3 p.m. ET on Tuesday. This plan allows for 17 hours of rest for crews and time for Tech Ops to service the aircraft.”

JetBlue is permitting travelers with canceled flights to rebook travel or request a refund. Likewise, other airlines are offering change-fee waivers in the wake of this perfect storm of bad weather and regulatory changes. Delays vary by airport and airline, so check with your carrier if you’re traveling this week. Find more information here:

Remember that it’s often a smart strategy to rebook flights online when possible, as airline call centers can get pretty overwhelmed during major weather disruptions. When you’re finished ironing out your itinerary, find more information on coping with your flight delay via the following resources. Good luck!

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