2 reasons flight cancellations are worse this year

Ben Mutzabaugh, travel reporter for USA Today

wtopstaff | November 15, 2014 12:24 am

WASHINGTON – Weather wasn’t kind to air travelers this past week. And Wednesday was no different.

“It’s bad news today. We’ve seen more than 2,700 flights canceled just today, and that brings the week’s total to more than 7,300 just since Sunday,” Ben Mutzabaugh, travel reporter for USA Today told WTOP.

On top of poor weather, two changes in the way airlines operate are throwing a wrench in the works.

“The one that has probably gotten less attention is that there’s been a change in work rules for airline pilots. Essentially it means that they have a bigger buffer for rest time for delays before they can be called back for their next flight,” says Mutzabaugh.

That changes does bring good news — pilots are more well rested, making flying safer.

“The downside is that during these types of disruptions, it’s a lot harder for these airlines to bring their crew back into a normal schedule.”

Additionally, there’s a new Department of Transportation (DOT) tarmac delay rule. Airlines can be fined up to $27,000 per passenger if passengers are stuck on a grounded plane for more than four hours.

“Instead of risking lots of long tarmac delays where they could get fined millions of dollars for those flights they are just canceling flights in mass.”

While Los Angeles and Phoenix aren’t experiencing extreme whether, those areas aren’t free from flight problems.

“There are just so many cancellations in this part of the world, it can’t help but ripple out,” said Mutzabaugh.

Typically, for a day-long storm, it takes 24-48 hours to get back on track, says Mutzabaugh.

So, when storms last several days, airlines’ flight schedules are pushed back even further.

“So if you’re trying to get out of New York or Chicago on Sunday, your flights may have been canceled the whole way through today, so now you’re in a pool with four days’ worth of people,” says Mutzabaugh.

“I think a lot of people are just going to give up. At some point you miss your window to travel.”

When everything comes together, Mutzabaugh says, travelers see cancellations in unexpectedly high numbers.

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