Hurricane Sandy Travelers Might Get Little Relief From Airlines

Hurricane Sandy brought travel by air, land and sea to a halt in the Northeast Monday, grounding thousands of flights, diverting cruise ships and shutting down public transportation. The cascading effect of airline flight cancellations alone has disrupted travel plans around the world. But once the storm has passed, air travelers may have more problems than canceled flights to deal with.

Airlines canceled more than 8,900 flights Sunday and Monday, with 4,800 more set to cancel for Tuesday. Heavy cancellations were at some of the nation’s busiest airports with Philadelphia International Airport, LaGuardia Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport hit especially hard.

That’s bad news for travelers. Worse news is that airlines may choose to not increase capacity to handle the surge of travelers once airport operations are back to normal.
“Empty seats are a rare commodity since the nation’s airlines began more than a year ago to cut many short-haul routes and eliminate less-profitable flights to increase revenue,” says a report in the Los Angeles Times.

Compounding the problem, some airlines have cut the amount of time passengers have to rebook canceled flights and still have change fees waived. While details vary by airline, most waive change fees and any difference in fares for a period of time after a major disruptive event. Previously giving up to a year to rebook, airlines have cut that time to as little as 14 days.

The combination of airline moves to cut capacity, flying full and profitable flights along with a shortened rebook period has travelers worried.

Call it “Frankenstorm,” the “storm of the century” or the “Superstorm,” in areas that received a direct hit, 60 million people could be affected. Stranded airline passengers are not likely to see relief for a number of days as airport operations are set back to normal.

[Photo Credit: Flickr user tanithk]