Here are two things that don’t fit together nicely in the same sentence: the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and a major winter storm.
U.S. weather forecasters warned Tuesday evening that, while most heavy snow will fall inland of the densely populated Washington-to-Boston corridor, heavy rain and wind gusts of up to 65 miles per hour could cause power outages, downed tree limbs, flooding and serious airport delays up and down the coast.
“The worst of the rain will end by the evening from New York City to Richmond, but will continue farther north from Hartford, to Boston and Portland, Maine,” Accuweather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said, referring to Wednesday. “It may take considerable time before airlines can catch up.”
For proof of how concerned airlines are that the nor’easter may muck up the busiest travel day of the year, one need only look at the cornucopia of travel waivers major carriers issued Tuesday that permit customers headed into and out of affected airports to change flights free of charge.
Just how many Americans are willing to voluntarily give up their flight home for Thanksgiving Wednesday remains to be seen, though some may not have a choice. More than two dozen flights out of Newark Liberty have already been canceled, as have a handful of flights out of Reagan National, LaGuardia and Boston Logan, according to flight tracking website FlightAware.com. Forecasters warned that delays and cancellations could mount at inland airports from Pittsburgh to Syracuse, N.Y., and Buffalo.
US Airways issued a travel alert Tuesday that covers flights into and out of a wide swath of the U.S. and Canada from Charlestown, W.Va., up through Washington, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Toronto and Montreal. The carrier said it had relaxed change-fee policies for flights through Wednesday. Passengers can choose to fly out instead on any date through Sunday.
The winter weather also prompted American Airlines to offer fee-free changes on flights into or out of 10 airports from Washington to Boston Wednesday. Travelers can fly instead on any date through Friday.
Delta Air Lines will allow fliers headed into or out of 12 airports from Washington to Boston to reschedule flights at no charge for travel on or before Saturday. Changes to origins and destinations, however, may result in an increase in fare to include any difference in price between the original ticket and new ticket.
Passengers scheduled to fly home for Thanksgiving Wednesday on United Airlines can also rebook free of charge if departing from or arriving to the following cities: Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia, Cleveland, New York and White Plains, N.Y. Customers must complete their final travel by the end of the ticket’s validity.
JetBlue announced that it would waive change fees due to the inclement weather for flights into and out of 15 airports from New York to Burlington Wednesday. Customers must rebook flights for travel through Thursday prior to the departure of their originally scheduled flight.
Spirit Airlines initiated a “weather buster policy” for Niagara Falls, N.Y., that will permit customers holding reservations for travel to, from or through the area Wednesday to change their flights.
Nearly every carrier said Tuesday that customers with canceled flights could opt for a full refund if they did not wish to rebook for another day.
The timing of the nor’easter couldn’t be worse, with AAA expecting 43.4 million Americans to travel 50 miles or more away from home for the holiday weekend. “The Wednesday before Thanksgiving will be the busiest single day of travel with 37 percent of travelers departing for trips Nov. 27,” AAA said last week in its 2013 forecast.
Airlines remained adamant Tuesday evening that they hoped to operate much of their schedules as planned Wednesday, and have so far been extremely cautious to cancel more flights.