Air travelers stranded by record-breaking snow along the East Coast will soon be home — or wherever they’re heading.
Airports in New York and Washington, D.C., reopened Monday. Airlines expect to resume normal operations nationwide by Wednesday, when the harsh snowfall from Winter Storm Jonas is expected to melt and give way to more travel-friendly conditions to the areas most plagued by snow: Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York.
But Mother Nature isn’t quite finished. Forecasters are watching a snow system moving to the Northeastern coast that could again bring light snow.
At Miami International Airport on Monday, few signs of the hundreds of cancellations that plagued the weekend remained. A few travelers napped slumped in airport seats. A stack of bags sat in a corner, unattended.
Nationwide, more than 9,200 flights to anywhere between North Carolina and New York were canceled Saturday and Sunday, according to FlightAware. By Monday, the number of canceled flights nationwide had diminished to about about 2,000.
324 Number of canceled flights out of Miami International Airport Friday through Sunday.
Ross Feinstein, a spokesman for American Airlines, said the airline is working to get passengers home quickly with options that include flights out of nearby, less busy cities to those connecting through unaffected airports. Stranded passengers will be put on the earliest available flights, but travelers that had previously booked flights will not be bumped from their seats to accommodate delayed travelers. American is Miami’s largest carrier.
Marc Henderson, spokesman for MIA, said that a push by airlines to contact passengers as soon as signs of inclement weather threatened to disrupt travel had helped diminish the number of passengers left in limbo and stuck in terminals.
“Now with the advent of social media and apps, the airlines are able to tweet out or email to let you know their flights have been canceled,” Henderson said. “That helps more than anything else because that then means our passengers don’t have to come here. At least they are not leaving, checking out and then coming over and finding out the plane is not taking off.”
The change follows a 2007 incident when JetBlue canceled about 1,000 flights and stranded thousands of passengers after an ice storm in the eastern United States. In the aftermath, most airlines beefed up passenger communication and have relaxed cancellation and change policies when disruptive weather is predicted.
Alexandria Williams, spokeswoman for Dallas-based FareCompare, said that since the JetBlue incident, passengers have generally been spared cancellation fees of up to $200. “The airlines are proactively making things a little bit easier when it comes to cancellation delays,” Williams said.
The result of those changes can be seen during disruptions as big as Winter Storm Jonas, when the ripple effect of displeased passengers has been much smaller, she added.
By Monday afternoon, 31 flights to the northeast from Miami had been canceled, down from 324 canceled flights between Friday and Sunday, MIA spokesman Marc Henderson said. At Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL), 409 flights were canceled between Friday and Monday, 19 of those on Monday alone, according to airport spokesman Gregory Meyer.
31 Number of canceled flights out of Miami International Airport on Monday.
Distressed passengers in South Florida were able to pile into hotels near the airports. At Miami International Airport Hotel, located inside the airport, general manager Harve Rosenthal said the hotel was able to accommodate frustrated passengers over the weekend.
“It was 100 percent all weekend,” Rosenthal said.
At FLL, Michael Nonnemacher, director of operations, said the airport’s main concern was cruise ship travelers who might not have known of the change in weather conditions when they came off the ship. Between Saturday and Sunday, 14 ships docked at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale.
The airport works with the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau to acquire available lodging in the county and distribute it to the airlines so they can distribute it to their passengers, Nonnemacher said. The strategy is called the Distressed Passenger Plan.
However, most travelers flying to the snow-blanketed Northeast agreed: South Florida is possibly the best place to be stranded during a blizzard.
In the lobby of the Sheraton Miami Airport Hotel on Monday morning, attendants took requests from airline and cruise ship travelers all morning.
Among those hanging out in the lobby were Alison and Doug Koch, from Long Island, who are stuck in Miami with their 21-year-old son, Jeremy, after arriving from a trip on the Celebrity Reflection cruise ship Saturday morning. They expect to get home Tuesday afternoon, but not until first enjoying a few sightseeing excursions to South Beach, the Everglades and Miami Seaquarium.
“We’ve just been laughing because it’s been one thing after another,” said Alison Koch, 50. The family has already had two flights canceled.
Koch said that despite having to call out of work, managing quickly dwindling clean-clothing options and her son missing his first day of his last semester of college, her family has made the best of the experience. Still, she conceded, it isn’t as warm in Miami as she had hoped.
“This is the first time this has happened to us. It’s been an adventure,” Koch said. “It could be worse — at least nobody lost their luggage.”