Airlines assumed their familiar defensive crouch over massive flight cancellations and excessive delays that still are buckling airports in New York.
Though part of the blame was aimed accurately at the severity of the blizzard and its high winds, not to mention the incompetence and outright laziness of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (which runs the airports), the airlines are now also in the public-opinion cross-hairs.
1. Failure to ensure even a modicum of customer service and responsiveness, as over 1 million passengers got stranded by cancellations, and even more by delays. There was an obvious initiative to preemptively cancel flights, even before the weather conditions deteriorated to the point where flying was impossible. Customers are livid about not being able to get through to airlines as the chaos built.
2. As airlines shank capacity and parked planes to shave operating costs in the last 18 months, and as airline mergers further constricted the system, there is no slack to handle even minor disruptions. Especially in a peak holiday travel season, all the planes were already full, so there was no way (especially because backup equipment and crews are pretty much a thing of the past) to handle the extra demand from passengers who were bumped off those 8,000-plus canceled flights.
Flights continue to be canceled today at the New York airports, though in far fewer numbers than recent days. Excessive delays (45 minutes and up) are also occurring. At the hilariously named Newark Liberty International Airport, 121 flights have been scrubbed as of mid-morning. At Kennedy, the number is 142. At La Guardia, it's 51.