December 27, 2010

Winter weather can be a real pain in the reindeer bottom

Image courtesy of Dan Santry

You’ve finally finished digesting Mom’s holiday dinner, or you’re sufficiently fried on that beautiful Caribbean beach and it’s time to get back to reality, only you can’t because Santa or Mother Nature (or some equally inconsiderate entity – one running theory is that Mother Nature is a drag queen suitably named Gusty Winds) decided to dump more than foot of snow on the entire Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region. Snowicane or snOMG or snowpocolypse – whatever you call it, it’s a real pain in the reindeer bottom for everyone.

We know it’s frustrating that you can’t get from point A to point B right now because airports are have been closed since last night and may remain closed throughout a good portion of today. The bottom line is that safety comes first. With winds blowing at 50 miles per hour and wet snow – and therefore icy – it’s just not safe to operate. We know you may be looking out your window in sunny Denver or hot Montego Bay and it’s difficult to imagine why flights are cancelled. Even in New York or Boston, you may have a pile of snow on your windowsill but don’t see additional snow coming down and you wonder why planes have not started flying again yet.

There are three main components to operating in these conditions:  airport readiness, aircraft readiness, and crew availability.  Right now, most of the airports in the Northeast are closed.  The runways and gates aren’t clear, and the weather conditions are still what we call “below safe operating conditions.”

Aircraft readiness is in the same boat.  The aircraft that sat overnight in the Northeast are iced up, so we have to spray them with de-icing fluid until they’re ready to go.  It can take 15-20 minutes for a regular de-icing (when there’s just a dusting of snow).  When an inch or more of ice has built up on the wings, de-icing can take much longer.  So even when the airport environment is open for business, airlines still have to de-ice their fleets.

And finally, crew availability is the final piece of the puzzle.  Flights may be canceled due to crew availability even after the airports and aircraft are ready to go because flight crews have strict duty periods and they have to rest. More on crews and weather cancellations here. Today, though, we’re also dealing with closed runways, roads that are barely passable, and trains and buses that are not running. In many cases, conditions are not safe for our Crewmembers or our Customers to get to the airports (where it’s even possible).

We’re doing our very best to ensure that we plan for a swift and safe return to operations just as soon as we’re able. And we’re offering fee waivers for rebooking in the meantime. Stay warm and indoors if you’re able and we’ll keep you updated.

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