Air Travel Sees $6 Billion Winter of Discontent

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Passengers walk past a screen showing canceled flights during a snowstorm on Monday at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C.JEWEL SAMAD / AFP - Getty Images

As another powerful winter storm pummeled the East Coast on Monday, tens of thousands of airline passengers faced another round of cancellations and delays that will leave them stranded far from their destination.

Those delays will also take another bite out of the U.S. economy.

So far this winter, severe weather has taken a nearly $6 billion toll on passengers, airlines and airports, according to masFlight, a software solutions company specializing in airline operations.

More than a million flights in and out of U.S. airports — regardless of their origin or destination — have been canceled or delayed since December, snarling travel for more than 90 million passengers. The lost productivity and out-of-pocket costs totals about $5.3 billion, compared with a typical winter average of about $2.9 billion, according to masFlight estimates.

With airlines better managing their capacity, flights even in the best weather are fuller than they've been in years. That means millions of storm-stranded passengers can find themselves stuck in the wrong city for days.

New regulations governing pilot schedules and tarmac delays are also complicating the usual snafus brought by bad weather.

Airline earnings have taken a hit, with as much as $500 million in added operating costs and lost revenue, according to masFlight estimates.

This cumulative effect of the weather will have a big effect on profitability in the first quarter," Gordon Bethune, former CEO at Continental Airlines, told CNBC.

Some airlines have had an especially rough time, in particular those with major operations in East Coast hubs repeatedly socked in by snowfall.

The overall cancellation rate for all major carriers has been about 5.5 percent, roughly double the average for the past five winters. United Airlines has canceled 7.3 percent of flights, nearly triple the recent average, followed by American (6.9 percent) and US Airways (6.2 percent.)

In contrast, Hawaiian Airlines has dodged this winter's stormy snafus entirely, with a zero percent cancellation rate, according to masFlight data.

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