Making things worse for travelers this winter, airlines have been cutting unprofitable flights and packing more passengers into planes. That’s been great for their bottom line but has created a nightmare for passengers whose flights are canceled due to a storm. Other planes are too full to easily accommodate the stranded travelers. Many must wait days to secure a seat on another flight.
Carol Cummings, 23, was trying to fly Thursday on United Airlines from the Washington, D.C., area to Los Angeles to visit a high school friend for the long Presidents Day weekend. The flight was canceled and Cummings was automatically rebooked for a flight on Monday — the day she was supposed to return home. After two and a half hours on hold, United offered to move the trip to another weekend — for an extra $150 — or to refund her ticket.
“I am annoyed and surprised at the lack of customer concern I experienced,” she said. Cummings is waiting for her refund.
This winter is even more painful than 2000-2001, when 66,000 — or 4.2 percent of December, January and February scheduled flights — were scrapped.
(Official statistics won’t be released for another two months but FlightAware’s figures have been historically in line with the government’s data.)
“As an industry, you are prepared for bad weather but I’m not sure if you are ready for this many events back to back,” says Savanthi Syth, an airline analyst with Raymond James.
Passengers weren’t prepared either.
“It’s extremely exhausting. I feel like a walking zombie,” says Colleen Hoover, 52, who arrived at Miami International Airport at 9 a.m. Wednesday. She was originally scheduled to fly from St. Croix in the Virgin Islands to Philadelphia, but her flight was re-routed to Puerto Rico and eventually Miami.
She says she slept at the airport hoping to catch another flight back home. “I’m running on empty, or adrenaline.”