General Information

Blame the Blizzard or Federal Flight Rules for the Bad Holiday Travel?

Last Updated:

Travel insurance helps when flights are delayed or cancelled, as was the case this holiday season.  Extreme winter weather impacted thousands of people’s travel plans over the past two weeks.  A recent article from Fox News considers whether the new federal rules about flight delays had any affect on the severity and quantity of the delays.  The following is an excerpt from the article.

In April, new rules went into effect that threatened airlines with a $27,500 per passenger fine if their planes didn’t take off within three hours after pulling out to the tarmac. The move was aimed at reducing a spate of horror stories from people stuck in claustrophobic conditions on planes without access to bathrooms, water or food.

The regulation seems to have had its desired effect. According to the Department of Transportation, since new rules were enacted in late April, the number of tarmac delays over three hours has dropped considerably. From May to September 2009, 535 tarmac delays over three hours were reported; in May through September this year, the number was 12.

But after an East Coast storm threatened to ravage New York area and other airports, hundreds of flights to and from the region were cancelled – several even before the snow started to fall — and complaints are mounting that the airlines were deserting their customers for fear of racking up fines.

“There’s no doubt about it, airlines (were) pre-emptively canceling flights because they don’t want to be stuck paying $27,000 per passenger,” said Vaughn Cordle of Airline Forecasts.

“I think it’s safe to say that there are many passengers who would have reached their destination, albeit with non-trivial delays, had the … ruling not be in effect,” said Amy Cohn, an associate professor of industrial and operations engineering at the University of Michigan and an affiliate at MIT’s Global Airline Industry Program.

But David Castelveter, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association, said while anecdotally, the airlines have changed their behavior as a result of the rules, the cause-effect relationship in this case is unlikely.

“The greatest number” of cancellations was “truly driven by the weather,” not the the new tarmac rules, he said.

After the Midwest storm delays a few years back, Northwest Airlines said it would pre-emptively cancel more flights during bad weather to keep passengers from waiting for long periods in the airport, Castelveter said. This was before the new regulations.

Airline analyst Darryl Jenkins said snowstorms are fairly easy to predict so airlines cancel flights ahead of time so as not to drag people to the airport just to strand them there.

“Don’t think the regulations made any difference in this event,” Jenkins said

A Department of Transportation official said the department does not get real-time information — it receives monthly reports — so it’s too early to say how many cancellations and delays occurred over the last couple of days.

The cause of a flight delay isn’t always the first concern for travelers.  Most people are concerned about where they will spend the night, when will they be able to make to to the destination and who will pay for the trip time they are missing.  Flight delays can be covered by several travel insurance benefit categories:  travel delay, trip cancellation, trip interruption or missed connection.  Travel delay coverage can reimburse for food, hotels and taxis.  Trip cancellation and trip interruption coverage can pay the traveler back for unused trip expenses.  Missed connection coverage helps with the costs of catching up to the trip.  Learn more about the available travel insurance coverage in the story Snow Ruined Holiday Pans? Here is How Travel Insurance Helps.

Source: Nature vs. Nurture: Did the Blizzard or Federal Rules Cause Massive Flight Cancellations?