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Blizzard Wrecked Plenty of Travel Plans, But Airlines Should Emerge OK

Image: A plane sits on the tarmac surrounded by snow at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York

A plane sits on the tarmac surrounded by snow at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on Jan. 24, 2016. KEVIN HAGEN / Redux Pictures

The massive snowstorm on the East Coast is over, but travelers and the airline industry are still feeling left in the cold — although things could have been worse.

At least 40 people died as a result of the storm. At Central Park in New York City, officials recorded nearly 27 inches of snow. It was worse in Glengary, West Virginia, which was slammed with 42 inches.

Blizzard 2016: East Coast digs out from historic storm 2:36

Since Friday, when the blizzard first hit, more than 13,000 flights have been canceled in the United States, according to aviation services company FlightAware. The situation is getting better: Only 339 of Tuesday's flights have been canceled, compared to 4,511 on Saturday.

While airlines certainly lost money, they aren't in too much pain, said business travel expert Joe Brancatelli.

"If you held a gun to their heads and said, 'When do you want to cancel 13,000 flights?' it might have been this weekend," Brancatelli told NBC News.

That is because January and February are slow months for air travel anyway, he said. The brunt of the storm hit over the weekend, when less people fly, another plus for the airline industry. And experts knew a bad storm was coming, leaving travelers and the airline industry well-prepared.

"Airlines had the benefit of knowing about this storm and the potential impact several days in advance and as such alerted passengers and gave them options to rebook or change their travel plans at no additional cost," said a spokesperson for the Airlines for America, a trade organization that represents the major airlines.

The spokesperson noted that airlines were able to "proactively cancel flights to minimize the impact to customers and crew." That let them "resume operations quickly once it was safe to fly."

Overall, 77 percent of scheduled flights in the U.S. were completed from Friday to Saturday, the organization said.

Storm makes for slow going

For travelers, the storm was inconvenient, but there was no holiday to miss by canceling a flight or being stuck at the airport.

"You might a lose a day or two of vacation time, but it's not like you can't get home for Christmas at grandma's," he said.

Airports in the New York City and Washington, D.C., regions were hit the hardest. On Monday at Newark Liberty International Airport, 47 percent of flights had been canceled, according to FlightAware, the most of any airport in the country. On social media, travelers complained about delayed and canceled flights.

The roads weren't much better. In D.C., Maryland and Virginia, officials urged people not to drive as clean-up efforts continued.

Subway lines in New York City were back up and running, although commuters should expect some delays, the MTA said. The Metrorail in Washington was operating with "limited service," while public transportation in Boston was also working, but with some maintenance slowing travel down.

"For the most part, it wasn't that horrific," IHS Global analyst Chris Christopher told NBC News about the impact of the blizzard on the economy.

Brick-and-mortar retailers might not be happy, but their online stores might actually see an uptick in business as people shop their boredom away.

The fact that this has been a warmer-than-usual winter on the East Coast could mitigate some of the negative effects of the blizzard on local economies. Low fuel prices mean airlines probably won't feel the pain as much as they would have in past years.

Movies theaters and restaurants, however, will probably see the snowy weekend as a lost opportunity.

"People don't make up for their lack of restaurant spending by eating twice as many hamburgers when things thaw out," Christopher said.