Storm Brings Reminder: Winter Isn't Over

Pedestrians walk in heavy snow in Boston, as a storm blows into the Northeast, Friday, March 16, 2007. (AP Photo/Lisa Poole)
AP Photo/Lisa Poole
JetBlue canceled nearly three-fourths of all scheduled flights across the country Friday — most in the New York area — because of a winter storm on the East Coast.

Aiming to avoid criticism about persistent delays and problems that followed a storm last month, the discount airline had canceled about 400 of its 550 flights by mid-afternoon.

"It's a strategic move to cancel your flights in advance to help you position aircraft and crews for a quick recovery when the storm is over," JetBlue spokesman Todd Burke said.

Other airlines — including American, United, Delta and Continental — also canceled flights. Outside of New York's airports, delays or cancellations were reported at airports in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Albany, N.Y., and Boston.

The storm was blamed for at least two deaths in traffic accidents in Pennsylvania. It also forced school cancellations throughout the Northeast and prompted some government agencies to send workers home early.

The major late-winter storm was barreling up the Eastern Seaboard Friday and Saturday, spreading a heavy mixture of snow, sleet and rain across the Mid-Atlantic states and the Northeast, says CBS News meteorologist George Cullen. Interior sections of these regions, especially the higher elevations, will receive 12 to 18 inches of snow by the time the storm ends on Saturday. However, the major cities along the coastline will see the snow mix with or change to sleet and rain from time to time, so there the amounts will be noticeably less.

"Either way traveling across this area will be very tough later today and tonight," Cullen said.

The National Weather Service forecast three to six inches of snow and sleet in New York, with more or less in its suburbs, depending on their location, according to meteorologist Peter Wichrowski.

Virtually every school district in suburban Westchester County, immediately north of New York, canceled classes Friday, reports Tony Aiello of WCBS-TV, "not worried so much about getting kids safely to school in the morning, but about getting them home safely in the afternoon, which is when the brunt of the storm is expected."

While the weather was spring-like in New York only a day before, "We're still in March, officially not out of the winter season," Wichrowski said. "You still can see these potent storms this time of year."

JetBlue has been under pressure to do better in bad weather since passengers were stranded in planes at John F. Kennedy International Airport for up to 10½ hours during a storm last month. JetBlue was unable to resume normal operations for days afterward because flight crews weren't where they were supposed to be.

Most of the JetBlue customers in the New York area were notified of the Friday cancellations in advance, except for Newark Liberty International Airport, Burke said. He said, "Newark is an unusual circumstance where we had last-minute cancellations."

Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airports, said the Port Authority deployed extra customer service agents to Newark to assist passengers with their canceled flights. Many customers, though, fumed as they tried to rebook tickets.

At Newark, Karen Opdyke, 48, was trying to get to Miami for a cruise with her husband, three young children and mother after their 9 a.m. flight was canceled.

"We got on the plane, we got off the plane. We got on the plane and off the plane," Opdyke said.

As she balanced a crying child next to a pile of luggage, she said she couldn't book another flight and JetBlue agents were not able to help them book on another airline. "There's nothing available all week," Opdyke said.

Overall, about 1,000 flights at the airports were canceled at New York-area airports by mid-afternoon, said Coleman.

JetBlue said it will waive its rebooking fees and any fare differences to allow customers with reservations for March 15 to 18 through Northeast airports to rebook for travel between March 20 and April 30.

New York-based JetBlue Airways Corp. normally operates about 600 flights a day to various destinations in the United States, Bermuda and the Caribbean.