Monday, August 28, 2017

Airlines Turned to Plan B to Avert Brunt of the Storm: United sent extra planes to Houston ahead of the storm to handle backlog of delayed traffic when flights resume at its second-busiest hub

The Wall Street Journal
By Susan Carey and  Doug Cameron
Updated Aug. 28, 2017 4:14 p.m. ET

Airlines were ready to give Tropical Storm Harvey a wide berth.

As the storm that is dumping record rain on south Texas formed in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this month, American Airlines Group Inc., United Continental Holdings Inc. and other carriers offered fee waivers to encourage passengers to fly before or after the storm.

United sent extra planes to Houston ahead of the storm to have dozens of aircraft in position there to handle the backlog of delayed traffic when flights resume at its second-busiest hub. “We will have the right number of crews to operate planes when we restart there,” a spokesman said.

After Houston’s two big airports closed on Sunday, United received permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly 300 passengers from Bush Intercontinental Airport there to its biggest hub at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

United also sent a flight full of humanitarian supplies, including bottled water and raincoats, and employees including flight crews to Houston on Sunday and planned to send two more on Monday, according to the spokesman. He said they would head back to Chicago carrying more passengers stranded in Houston.

Houston-bound United passengers coming to the U.S. from overseas were rerouted to other United hubs. Customers bound for Houston have been put up at hotels to wait for the airport to resume service, the spokesman said.

The FAA said Monday that Bush airport will remain closed to all but military and relief flights until Thursday. William P. Hobby Airport, a big base for Southwest Airlines Co. near downtown Houston, will remain closed until at least Wednesday. Officials allowed Southwest to send five flights from Hobby to Dallas on Sunday to clear that airport of 485 stranded passengers.

More than 1,400 flights to and from Bush and Hobby airports were canceled on Monday, a similar number to Sunday. Air-traffic controllers are on duty at both airports to direct relief flights, the FAA said.

The National Hurricane Center said the storm would likely re-enter the Gulf of Mexico on Monday and make landfall near Houston again later this week. As Harvey moves east, more airports are coming under threat. Local authorities closed the airport in Beaumont, Texas, according to the FAA, and American suspended operations at Lake Charles Regional Airport in Louisiana.

The storm that became Harvey meandered over the Gulf for days before barreling into the Texas coast on Friday night, allowing airlines time to get out a familiar playbook for major storms. For airlines, winter storms and hurricanes move slowly enough to allow time for planning, unlike thunderstorms and flight turbulence that can appear out of nowhere.

United is coordinating its response from the 27th floor of its headquarters in Willis Tower in downtown Chicago. Meteorologists, crew schedulers, dispatchers and air-traffic-control liaisons are working with the FAA, their airport counterparts and customer-service agents to track the storm and its impact on United’s flights. They are also mapping out how to rebuild the flight schedule when the weather clears.

And some of them are eyeing a new threat. Tropical Storm Irma is forming in the Atlantic off the South Carolina coast and is expected to cause heavy rain, gusty wind and rip currents all the way to Virginia. United has already issued waivers covering four airports in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, allowing customers slated to fly Monday and Tuesday to fly as late as Friday.

But Irma isn’t shaping up to be nearly as serious as Harvey, the United spokesman said. “We planned for this,” he said.

Original article can be found here ➤

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