Airline Delays Could Last Days in New England
January 5, 2014
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  • New Englanders hoping to board a flight this week may encounter residual disruptions from a perfect storm of factors that caused dozens of flight delays and cancellations at Logan International Airport on Sunday.

    Airlines already were saddled with a backlog of passengers trying to rebook trips canceled because of last week’s snowstorm before wintry conditions at other US airports, a minor accident in New York, and new FAA rules for pilots worsened the situation over the weekend.

    Massachusetts Port Authority spokesman Richard Walsh said delays varied widely by airline, and urged travelers to check with their carriers about the status of flights. The airport was relatively calm Sunday, he noted, as airlines were quickly processing affected passengers.

    “The airfield is in operating condition, and the sun is shining,” he said. “But the Northeast is one of the busiest air corridors in the country, and any weather delays will cascade and affect other airports.”

        More cold on the way tonight

    But the backlog could be difficult to clear, some airlines warned, because planes are filled with customers returning from holidays.

    Passengers at Logan on Sunday told the Globe they had been bumped to flights throughout this week or, in one case, as far off as Saturday.

    The air travel delays were just one headache caused by wild weather over the last week. After a major snowstorm hit the region Thursday and Friday, arctic cold set in. The low temperatures caused innumerable water pipes and some mains to burst, and also led to house fires when people unsafely used ovens and space heaters to stay warm.

    Monday offers a respite with temperatures in the 50s, according to the National Weather Service. But the freezing air is expected to return Tuesday, and with it, the potential for dangerously icy conditions.

    Snow that melts during Monday’s thaw could freeze before the Tuesday morning commute, causing ice to coat roads and runways. The cold will persist through Thursday before temperatures inch above freezing next weekend.

    On Sunday, while Boston had mild temperatures in the 40s, airlines said that harsh cold and snowy conditions in the Midwest were causing delays to ripple through the air travel system. Travel was further complicated when a taxiing plane slid off the runway at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City Sunday morning, briefly closing the major travel hub.

    The delays were also exacerbated by new rules for pilots that went into effect Saturday. FAA regulations now include stricter limits on how many hours pilots can fly before they must take a break. Airlines said they were revising crew schedules to comply with the long-discussed change.

    A spokeswoman for JetBlue Airways, Logan’s largest airline, said the company expected to cancel 50 to 100 flights Sunday. The company is waiving change and cancel fees for affected passengers.

    “We are working hard to reset the operation and get people where they’re going, but it will take days, not hours,” said spokeswoman Jenny Dervin in a statement. “We have few options available, further hindered by incoming weather [icing conditions] in the Northeast.”

    Sunday afternoon, frazzled JetBlue passengers at Logan waited at baggage claims, many with cellphones to their ears as they tried to make new travel arrangements. Travelers lounged on benches, some drinking coffee to stay awake after a long night of delays.

    Richard Bellefeuille said he had been sitting with his two young sons at Logan since Saturday evening. The boys were supposed to fly to San Francisco at 8 p.m., but after hours of delays, the flight was finally canceled at 3 a.m. The airline told them the next available flight leaves Saturday.

    “Their mother’s in San Francisco, but they were here with me for the holidays and it looks like I’ll have them an extra week,” he said.

    Dan Landson, a spokesman for Southwest Airlines, said the company already had canceled about 100 flights nationwide by Sunday afternoon. While that represents a relatively small fraction of Southwest’s approximately 3,200 daily flights, the airline still must find empty seats for thousands of passengers.

    “We’re doing our best to get people where they need to go, but our flights are full, so it’s tough,” Landson said. “It’s going to take a couple days.”

    Cold temperatures in the Midwest forced ground crews to work shorter shifts outdoors for safety reasons, he said, contributing to delays and cancellations.

    Liz Trautman, 30, and Mike Story, 35, were at Logan Sunday afternoon waiting to see if a flight to Seattle with a connection through John F. Kennedy Airport in New York would take off after being delayed.

    “JetBlue is being sketchy about whether we’re going to end up flying out or not,” said Story.

    It was the second delay for the pair, who had originally planned to depart Thursday on a flight that was canceled because of the storm.

    “It’s been lovely to get to spend more time with my family, but I really don’t want to have to take another vacation day,” said Trautman.

    Muli Klarman, 26, and her two children had their Saturday flight to Washington, D.C., delayed until Sunday, only to have that departure scratched as well.

    “I lost an entire day at the airport,” she sighed.

    Meanwhile, recovery from the snowstorm and subsequent cold continued Sunday.

    In Duxbury, where the National Guard rescued 10 residents from their homes after coastal flooding caused by the storm, members of the high school wrestling team helped overwhelmed firefighters by digging out about 50 hydrants.

    “When we’re going call to call, with five firefighters on duty, it’s tough to do the fire hydrants sometimes,” said fire Captain Rob Reardon. “They [the wrestlers] did a great job.”

    In Boston, a section of Bowdoin Street remained closed Sunday while workers repaired damage from a high-pressure underground fire pipe that burst Saturday. It was not clear when the road would reopen to traffic.

    Firefighters evacuated 98 people from a YWCA in Cambridge on Sunday after a frozen water pipe broke and filled the center’s boiler room with 5 feet of water, Assistant Fire Chief Gerry Mahoney said.

    State officials with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency warned residents that snow piled on roofs could soak up the forecast rain, adding weight and increasing the risk of roof collapses. Flat roofs on commercial buildings are the most vulnerable, the agency said in a statement, adding that residents who can safely clear snow from their homes and unclog drainage systems should do so.