Friday, February 12, 2010


Well, nobody got stranded -- at least on the airlines' watch, that is. But maybe a million air travelers scrambled to re-book canceled flights -- and some are still scrambling.

I suspect something besides the snow was coming down in the last week as airlines cancelled an extraordinary number of flights -- about 13,000 in all between Feb. 5 and yesterday.

Not since 9/11 have so many flights been scrubbed in such a short period of time.

Congress is chronically paralyzed, of course, and the snow didn't do much to change that. But I would suggest it is time for some kind of an inquiry into just why so many flights disappeared from the boards. Runways can be plowed in a day or less.

As I have been saying, my guess is that the airlines -- not overtly-collectively, but collectively-intuitively -- decided to keep some flights grounded that otherwise might have taken off -- eventually. In December, the Transportation Department said it would fine airlines $27,500 per passenger for flights idled on tarmacs for three hours and more. (There are certain exceptions, however, for severe weather and other circumstances.)

Congress, assuming it manages to ever get anything done, is also expected to pass legislation that would address the "stranded passengers" phenomenon.

Airlines are furiously opposed to what they see as federal meddling in their passenger operations and scheduling. Of course, big snowstorms always cause a certain number of flight cancellations. But not this many, not 13,000. My guess is that a good number of those flights were wiped out because 1. airlines did not want to chance any long tarmac delays and 2. airlines were also motivated to make a point.



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