• Weather impact ‘unprecedented’ in North America

    Patrick Coleman
    Daily flight cancellations in North America in 2014. Click to enlarge.

    Daily flight cancellations in North America in 2014. Click to enlarge.

    Vicky LaFlamme wrote last week about it being a winter of discontent in North America. And with 48,977 flights cancelled in January and another 35,884 in the first 20 days of February across the continent, we know travelers have been frustrated.

    It’s not just the weather, and it’s not just the fact that airlines have been cutting back on their flights and available seats for the past several years. There are a couple of U.S. government regulations that contribute to the high number of cancellations as well.

    The three-hour tarmac delay rule, where airlines can be fined if they keep a plane on the tarmac for three hours or longer with passengers on board, could prompt airlines to simply cancel a flight instead, rather than risk the delay.

    That rule is not new, however. What’s new, is that in January, rules regarding the amount of time pilots can be available to fly were changed, and that may make it more difficult to find available crews during so called “irregular operations.”

    Snow covers the runways and parking areas of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport after a near-record snowfall in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. (File photo, U.S. Park Rescue Technician/Paramedic Sgt. Klebaner/Released)

    Snow covers the runways and parking areas of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport after a near-record snowfall in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. (File photo, U.S. Park Rescue Technician/Paramedic Sgt. Klebaner/Released)

    Even that change, however, is not enough to cause this type of disruption to the system. The problem is where the weather has taken place.

    “The amount of weather that has impacted the travel network this year in the United States is unprecedented,” said Tim Husted, Senior Director, Traveler Services Support for CWT. “Places such as Chicago, New York City and Minneapolis are equipped to handle winter weather, and while large winter storms may have an impact on flights, ground operations typically remain constant. When major winter storms hit the southern and Mid-Atlantic states, flights and ground operations come to a halt, which adds complexity for travelers who are stranded in the city.”

    We know you may have had to postpone trips the past two months, perhaps even multiple times. If your return flight is cancelled, you may need to find lodging and ground transportation in a city for an extra night or two. Husted and the team know this: “Travelers end up having to scramble to find available hotel space and deal with getting from the airport to the hotel and vice versa in addition to dealing with the stress of an unplanned extended absence from home and work.”

    Meanwhile, the travel counselors and the rest of the Traveler Services team at Carlson Wagonlit Travel are working hard to keep you on track. Our priority is to make sure you, the traveler, reach your destination safely and as efficiently as possible.

    “Having a travel counselor available to help with rebookings will certainly ease that stress, Husted said. “All CWT trained agents are on board to support the needs of our travelers during this time.”

    We closely watch weather conditions in order to make sure we have the best possible staffing levels, adding hundreds of hours for on-call staff on some of the most heavily impacted days. Here are some things you can do for yourself as well to make your travel easier.

    The CWT To Go family is getting bigger!

    The CWT To Go family is getting bigger!

    Download and register our mobile app, CWT To Go, to make sure you get up-to-the-minute flight information. We recently released a version of the app for Windows Phone, joining our iPhone, Android and BlackBerry apps, and soon we’ll have a version of the app for Android tablets and the Kindle Fire.

    Check the CWT U.S. website to see if your airline has offered to ease or waive rebooking restrictions for travel to your destination.

    Make sure to check the weather at your destination, as well as any place where you change planes. If you get stuck in a connecting city with extreme cold weather, you may have trouble. And carry a protein bar or healthy snack in your carry-on (along with the charger for your mobile device!) because if you get stuck in an airport where thousands of other people are already stuck, you may find yourself in competition for limited food options in the terminal.

    And as always, follow your airline, your departure, destination and connecting airport, and @CWTAmericas on Twitter for current updates.

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