Air travel snarled by storms, with headaches expected to continue


The road is empty leading out of downtown Atlanta, as travelers heeded warnings and stayed home. (Tami Chappell/Reuters)

As the Washington region readied snow plows and salt trucks, travelers around the country were being hit with yet another round of flight cancellations. And with a snowstorm approaching the Northeast on Wednesday night and Thursday, these issues are only expected to worsen.

The winter weather caused another nightmarish day for fliers, with more than 3,100 flights canceled by 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, according to FlightAware.

As an ice storm battered Atlanta and other parts of the South, the biggest air travel issues cropped up in that region. More than half of the flights canceled Wednesday were going to or from Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, with more than 1,600 flights nixed at that key hub​. Another 800 flights were also canceled at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Dozens of cancellations were also reported at airports from Philadelphia to Miami and from Chicago to Dallas.

The cancellations continue a bitter trend so far this year. In just six weeks, there have been more than 52,000 flights canceled, according to FlightAware. There were nearly 40,000 cancellations in January alone, nearly as many cancellations as there had been in the five previous months combined.

More than 360 flights were canceled Wednesday at the three airports in the Washington region, nearly half of them at Reagan National Airport.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which operates Reagan National and Dulles International airports, said it would have crews and equipment ready to treat and clear runways. But the authority cautioned that the decision to cancel flights would vary from airline to airline, so travelers were urged to check with their airline for the latest status. Here’s where to get information if you’re flying out of National, Dulles or Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport.

In addition to the flights halted on Wednesday, another 2,500 flights scheduled for Thursday have already been canceled. As of 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, that number included more than 370 flights at National and 230 flights at Dulles, according to FlightAware.

The snowstorm is expected to create problems for travelers on the ground as well. Amtrak has begun suspending service, while officials around Washington began making preparations to salt and plow roads around the region.

In anticipation of the storm, Maryland and Virginia declared states of emergency on Tuesday, while the District followed suit on Wednesday.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) both issued declarations Tuesday, which let the states activate their respective National Guards and prepare for potential power outages and snarled roads. Both governors also issued statements asking residents to prepare for these outages and other storm-related headaches, urging people to avoid travel if possible and to have emergency supplies available.

O’Malley warned residents to stay off the roads after 10 p.m. because of what he characterized as “a 24-hour snow and ice event coming to our state.”

“There’s a big swath of nasty snow and ice that’s moving up the East Coast,” O’Malley said during an early afternoon news conference. “It’s a big storm, and it has the potential to do a lot of damage.”

O’Malley also asked Marylanders to conserve energy given what he said will be an extra strain on the grid during the storm. The governor also passed along some practical tips, suggesting motorists make sure they have at least a half a tank of gas and let friends and family know where they’re going if they must get on the roads.

Maryland’s Emergency Management Agency said it would have crews across the state moving from south to north between 5 and 9 p.m. on Wednesday.

In Virginia, the Department of Emergency Management established a Tumblr dedicated to the storm, which included a guide to what to have in an emergency kit and the latest forecasts.

The District has declared a snow emergency, effective at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. The declaration, which prohibits street parking on major city thoroughfares, will allow crews to more thoroughly plow streets, D.C. public works director William O. Howland said Wednesday morning.

A snow emergency violation involves a $250 ticket plus towing and storage fees. This will be the first snow emergency declared in the city since 2010, Howland said.

District taxicabs may begin charging special “snow emergency” prices starting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, the D.C. Taxicab Commission announced.

The special snow rules allow cabbies to charge $15 above the regular metered fare and “serves as inducement to make sure cabs will be out there,” said Neville Waters, a spokesman for the commission.

The snow-emergency declaration is effective for 12 hours, until 6:30 a.m., Waters said, unless extended by order of the commission’s chairman. If there is an extension, it will be posted on the commission’s web site at dctaxi.dc.gov, Waters said.

Mike DeBonis and John Wagner contributed to this report.

Mark Berman is a reporter on the National staff. He anchors Post Nation, a destination for breaking news, developing stories and quick analysis of events around the country.
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