The chaos in the nation’s air travel system worsened Monday as a wave of frigid weather forced airlines to cancel thousands more flights, stranding passengers from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Los Angeles.
Compounding the issue, at least for one airline, were new regulations requiring more rest time for pilots that began at the beginning of the year.
JetBlue Airways said the combination of bad weather and the new Federal Aviation Administration rules led it to cancel all of its flights into and out of Boston and the three New York area airports for 17 hours starting Monday afternoon.
The regulations made airlines build more leeway into their already tight pilot scheduling. Once the delays hit, some pilots who formerly would have been available to fly were not allowed to.
“In the midst of us repairing those schedules disrupted by this week’s winter storms, we’re facing an additional challenge as new F.A.A. rules went into effect for crew rest,” JetBlue said in a statement.
The biggest impact on the airlines was in the Northeast and the Midwest, where polar weather swooped in. Airlines canceled 4,400 flights on Monday, bringing the total to more than 18,000 since last Thursday, according to FlightView.com, a flight information website.
The delays, during one of the busiest travel periods of the year, marooned thousands of people trying to return home from holiday trips, begin a new school term or get back to work. Fans of Florida State and Auburn scrambled to find their way to Pasadena, Calif., for college football’s national championship game at the Rose Bowl on Monday night.
One traveler, Courtney Morrissey, said she was supposed to start a new job on Monday in Denver but has been stuck in Rochester, N.Y., since last Thursday after three different flights she had rebooked were canceled. She is now scheduled to fly on Wednesday.
“I am not holding my breath,” Morrissey said. “Every time they put me on a new flight now, I expect that to be canceled.”
Widespread cancellations are increasingly common in the airline industry, which relies on the hub-and-spoke model of connecting flights. Airlines also now operate on a much tighter schedule, leaving them with little slack, and have few spare planes to rebook passengers.
In 2012, Hurricane Sandy forced airlines to cancel more than 20,000 flights over a four-day period.
Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport was hit the hardest, with more than 1,600 flights canceled on Monday as temperatures fell below minus 12 degrees.
United Airlines operated a pared-down schedule as ground workers and bag handlers could not stay more than 15 minutes on the tarmac. Refueling operations also took longer than usual, said Mary Ryan, a United spokeswoman.
JetBlue stopped all service from 5 p.m. Monday to 10 a.m. Tuesday from Logan Airport in Boston and from Kennedy International, La Guardia and Newark Liberty International Airport in the New York area. The airline warned of the effect of the new FAA regulations on service.
The new rules mandate a minimum rest period for pilots of 10 hours before they report for duty, up from eight hours, and includes a provision that they get eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. It also limits the number of hours a pilot can fly and sets cumulative flight duty limits.
“These rules further impact our ability to operate an already disrupted schedule, causing our pilots to ‘time out’ even sooner,” JetBlue said. “As a result, additional cancellations are likely to occur as we work to reset the operation.”
Capt. Sean Cassidy, a first vice president at the Air Line Pilots Association, said it was too soon to know what impact, if any, the new rules had on the recent cancellations. Airlines have had nearly two years to plan for the new regulations.
“It’s rather unfortunate that the day the new rule change became mandatory happens to coincide with this massive weather system,” Cassidy said. “It is very difficult to extrapolate.”
Still, Cassidy added, “some airlines were better prepared than others, that’s fair to say.”
These regulations, the most significant change for pilots in decades, were long in the making but were given a new impetus after the 2009 crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407, which killed 49 people on board. The investigation found that fatigue had most likely contributed to the crew’s performance.
“Some carriers got out front of this and planned better than others, and hired up for the added resources required,” said Bob Mann, an airline consultant in Port Washington, N.Y. “When the cusp of a significant adjustment like this coincides with serial bad weather across the country and a heavy holiday traffic period, it would be unrealistic to expect good things to happen, and they didn’t and in some cases still haven’t, and won’t for days to come.”
In fact, airlines are still struggling to regain their footing from last week’s snowstorm that blanketed the Northeast. “It’s just been a very challenging string of weather events,” said Morgan Durrant, a spokesman for Delta Air Lines. “Whenever you have that lineup when you can’t get a day to reboot and reset all your operations and assets, it gets to be very challenging.”
Some airlines fared better than others. Delta, for instance, canceled 695 flights on Monday, including 75 on its mainline operations and 620 in Delta Connection, its regional partner. That amounted to about 15 percent of its daily flights.
The weather disruptions affected travelers even in sunny climes. At Fort Lauderdale International Airport, the backlog of people waiting at the JetBlue counter on Monday morning was hundreds deep, forcing airport employees to steer them outdoors to queue up. There, they were handed free bottles of water to help cope with the 84-degree temperature.
Nancy Labrecque, a nursing student from Montreal who had just returned from a cruise in the Bahamas, said she arrived to the airport at 6:30 a.m. but found that her flight to New York had been canceled.
Traveling with her husband and two children, she was told they might have a chance on Friday. “I was not being picky. I said, ‘Take me somewhere else,’ but there were no flights to anywhere,” she said. “We were in line for 4 1/2 hours. This is a fiasco.”
Michael A. Nonnemacher, director for operations at the Fort Lauderdale airport, said that flights grounded in New York or elsewhere end up having a domino effect on later flights that depend on that aircraft.
“It’s a whole trickle-down effect,” he said. “When you have this number of flights canceled, you have a systemwide effects. It’s like a plume.”
Melissa Garcia arrived at the airport at 9 a.m. Monday with her husband, two children and baby sitter. At noon, the nanny was still holding their place in line. Her 11:20 a.m. flight to Newburgh, N.Y., was canceled. At about 11 a.m., the airline sent an email offering a refund.
“If you look at the other airlines, they are delayed, not canceled,” Garcia said. “We’re still waiting to find another flight. It’s supposed to be first come first served, but when we got here the line was to the door.”
She added, “I don’t think this is related to the weather.”
Garcia, a biologist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is out of sick and vacation days. If her vacation is extended, she will have to take unpaid days off. “I’m not mad yet,” she said. “I just want to get home.”