Airlines try to restore stability to post-Sandy skies

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An air traveler takes pictures of a flight monitor showing cancelled flights at New York's LaGuardia Airport

An air traveler takes pictures of a flight monitor showing cancelled flights at New York's LaGuardia Airport (Adrees Latif, Reuters)

After the havoc that Hurricane Sandy wreaked on the nation's airlines, experts project that the industry should return to normal by early this week.

During the first four days of the storm, close to 20,000 flights had been canceled, a figure that was dropping dramatically by the day as the week went on, according to FlightStats (flightstats.com).

The trouble, airline industry analyst Robert Mann said, was the difficulty of airlines "moving aircraft and crew to where they are needed to restart the system." Also, a lack of public transportation to airports made getting crews in place difficult, he said.

Lance Sherry, who runs the Center for Air Transportation Systems Research at George Mason University, told The Associated Press, "It's kind of like dominoes — when one aircraft is out of place, it means the flight crew is out of place, and that has a ripple effect throughout the rest of the day."

As a result, airlines were offering customers full refunds on canceled flights and relatively liberal opportunities to rebook without change fees. American Airlines, for instance, offered people who had planned to fly through Nov. 7 into or out of New York's John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports, as well as Newark, the opportunity to fly instead through Dec. 20.

Those flying into another 20-plus East Coast airports were given similar options, though that rescheduled travel needed to be complete by Nov. 7.

Major airlines, including United, Southwest and Delta, instituted similar policies.

"Once one does it, they all have to do it," said Keith Gerr, a spokesman for FlightStats. "You can't be the one airline that didn't relax your policy. If you are, you'll get hammered for that."

According to FlightStats, through midweek, 19 percent of flights had been canceled on U.S. carriers, the highest percentage affecting U.S. flights as the result of a natural event in recent years.

jbnoel@tribune.com

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