Reagan National Airport
Jacquelyn Martin  /  AP
No airplanes are seen on the tarmac at Washington's Reagan National Airport, on Feb. 11, as massive storms have clobbered the area with snow bringing area airports to a halt.
updated 2/11/2010 7:12:06 PM ET 2010-02-12T00:12:06

A return to normal could be days away for the nation's airlines after they canceled thousands more flights Thursday following the second of two major East Coast snow storms.

Airlines should be able to begin improving their operations on Friday. Southwest planned to move its full overnight complement of 18 planes into Baltimore. United Airlines, which has a hub at Dulles in Washington, was moving larger planes onto some routes. Many airlines do this in order to move stranded travelers into their hubs to get them to their destination.

David Magana, spokesman for the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, wouldn't predict when things would again run smoothly. About one-third of Thursday's scheduled flights were canceled at the nation's fourth-biggest airport. Most planes that departed were delayed because they had to be sprayed with de-icer fluid.

"You don't challenge Mother Nature, you adapt to what she brings," Magana said.

Dallas is a hub for American Airlines. The carrier scratched 949 flights between its mainline and American Eagle regional flights. That's a quarter of its schedule.

Among other airlines, US Airways canceled 695 of its 3,100 flights. United was down 290 flights out of a schedule of about 3,300.

"You had a number of major metropolitan East Coast airports that literally gave up on the idea of trying to stay open, so the result was a wholesale shutdown instead of a selective pruning of flights," airline consultant Robert Mann said.

Video: Weather problems pile up Airlines are now quicker to cut flights in advance and move planes and crews into position for the recovery, Mann said. In the past, they'd wait until the bad weather struck and hope for the best.

United, for instance, removed all of its aircraft from Dulles on Wednesday night, spokeswoman Robin Urbanski said. That freed up those planes for other flights. The carrier also put up some 100 crew and workers in hotels near the airport so they would be ready on Thursday morning.

"We did a lot of things on the front end, to make sure that once the snow stopped we could ensure a speedy recovery," she said.

It's too soon to know how much the snowstorms will cost the airlines. But a 2007 ice storm cost JetBlue Airways Corp. $44 million in lost revenue from canceled flights and vouchers for stranded passengers.

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For travelers, the best advice over the next few days is to pack patience.

Joe Brancatelli runs joesentme.com, a Web site for business travelers. His Wednesday night flight to Rome was canceled. A Continental Airlines executive Brancatelli was on the phone with at the time tried to help.

"When the executive wants to help you and the best he can do is two days later on another airline," you know you're in trouble, Brancatelli said. He's hoping to leave for Rome on Saturday for his two-week vacation.

He says flight-tracking Web sites like flightaware.com or flightstats.com, as well as the airline Web sites, can tell you whether a flight is running on-time. Stick with a confirmed seat rather than trying to switch if it means going on standby. And consider a hotel near the airport when you expect delays — although be sure to know the cancellation policy in case you end up not needing a room.

Slideshow: Awful airlines "I wish I could say, 'Here's 15 ways to avoid it happening to you,' but it's going to happen to you," he said.

As for taking the train, Amtrak said downed trees and power lines south of Washington forced it to cancel more service in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Tracks between Washington, New York and Boston remained open, but there were scattered cancellations elsewhere in the Northeast. And it canceled two trains each between Washington D.C. and Chicago, between New York and Savannah, Ga. and between Lorton, Va. and Sanford, Fla.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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