Sunday, March 25, 2018

To Manage Storms, Airlines Try to Keep Passengers Away From Airports: ‘Irregular weather’ teams are using airline booking apps and social media to minimize disruptions caused by storms



The Wall Street Journal
By Doug Cameron
March 21, 2018 8:54 p.m. ET


Airlines have a new strategy for managing winter storms: keep more passengers away from snowbound airports.

Four nor’easters have ravaged the most congested part of the U.S. airspace in recent weeks, triggering thousands of flight cancellations. Big airline hubs in Atlanta and Chicago have also faced severe disruption from winter weather.

Carriers have become more adept at juggling adverse weather by moving aircraft away from the path of storms and bringing in extra staff to handle agitated passengers at airports seeking alternatives when their flights are canceled.

In addition, during this winter-storm season carriers, including American Airlines Group Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc., have tried to deter passengers from even heading to the airport when flights are grounded.

“We’ve definitely become more proactive,” said Ross Feinstein, a spokesman at American Airlines.

Executives said dedicated “irregular weather” teams have turned to airline-booking apps and social media to try to manage passenger flows and help minimize disruption.

“It’s only human nature to show up at the airport and hope for the best,” said Delta spokesman Morgan Durrant.

Airlines typically rebook passengers automatically when flights are canceled. This winter, Delta has used upgrades in its online-booking tools to offer passengers their choice of alternative flights, reducing the number who have gone to the airport in the hope of catching their original plane. Delta has also offered waivers to passengers who change flights—without the usual fees—much earlier.

American, the world’s largest airline, said it started canceling flights this week a day before a single snowflake fell in the Northeast. The airline sent emails and texts to passengers as it canceled a quarter of its total flights for Wednesday when the brunt of the storm hit the region.

American has in recent months rolled out its “Dynamic Rebooking” system, which shows customers a range of alternative flights based on the latest information from its weather and operations centers.

“We prefer passengers to rebook from the comfort of the office or their home,” Mr. Feinstein said.

So far, even the elevated number of cancellations has had little impact on airlines’ financial results. Only Delta has cited a negative impact following a big storm that grounded flights this winter at its Atlanta hub.

Analysts view storms as generally neutral for profits. Airlines lose some high-paying business passengers who buy walk-up fares and incur extra costs from bringing in additional staff and deicing planes. On the other hand, cancellations reduce operating costs, notable as jet fuel prices have climbed 30% over the past year.

While carriers used to move planes out of a storm’s path, some carriers opt for earlier cancellations that allow them to retain planes at their departure point, limiting the amount of empty-aircraft flights.

American, for example, opted to cancel most of its westbound flights from Europe on Mar. 21—leaving planes to depart on schedule the next day—and uses plentiful space at its big hubs in Charlotte and Miami to park domestic aircraft so it can restart operations quickly.

Delta said it is prepared to take a financial hit to be “first-in, last out” with flights, allowing it to restart operations quicker when weather improves.

“In years past, it would take Delta a couple of days to recover,” said Delta spokesman Michael Thomas. “Now, storms are a one-day event.”

Original article can be found here ➤ https://www.wsj.com

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