Stranded passengers face long wait after storm halts flights

Flights grounded across eastern America as snowfall hits 20-inches and winds 30mph

FLIGHT WOES: Six US carriers cancelled at least 3,299 flights on Sunday (Getty Images)

FLIGHT WOES: Six US carriers cancelled at least 3,299 flights on Sunday (Getty Images)

Passengers stranded when airlines canceled more than 6,000 flights amid a winter storm in the eastern US may face lengthy waits to rebook their trips as carriers move aircraft and search for seats on crowded planes.

“It’s a mess,” Jay Sorensen, president of consultant Ideaworks and a former airline marketing executive, said yesterday. “It takes a long time for this to sort out. With every day of cancellations, the problem just compounds itself.”

Six US carriers cancelled at least 3,299 flights on Sunday, primarily in Philadelphia and the New York area, where all the major airports were closed. That’s in addition to 3,334 flights grounded December 26 by snowfall of as much as 20-inches and winds gusting to 30mph.

Teresa Harlow, who had planned to return to Manchester, England, said she didn’t learn her December 26 flight with Delta Air Lines Inc. had been canceled until she checked the website for New York’s John F. Kennedy airport.

Carriers struggled to relocate aircraft and crews while factoring in airport employees unable to travel to work after New York’s heaviest December snowfall since 1948 blocked streets and cancelled some local train service.

“An airline schedule, when it’s connected with staffing and equipment allocation, is like a picture puzzle,” Sorensen said. “What has happened is this storm has essentially blown into the room and tossed all the pieces up into the air.”

AMR Corp.’s American Airlines added reservations agents yesterday, after a flood of calls from passengers on canceled flights Dec. 26, said Ed Martelle, a spokesman for the Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier.

The volume of calls to American’s reservation lines from people trying to rebook flights is more than double the normal level, he said.

“We are calling people in off their vacation, trying to find people who can man a phone anyway we can,” Martelle said. “We’re extending part-timers so there will be additional manpower.”

The time needed to accommodate affected passengers will depend on the length of the shutdowns, he said. “It’s a moving target. I don’t know how fast we can get them on planes.”

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