Travelers in Northeast face more cancellations

/ Source: msnbc.com staff and news service reports

For more than a year, Angela Schrock and her husband, Jeff, have been planning a trip to the Dominican Republic to see some good friends tie the knot. The couple’s travel troubles began Monday when their flight into Atlanta was canceled. After days of flight cancellations, frustrations and a needless flight to Detroit, the Schrocks, along with 22 other wedding guests, won’t make it for the big day. “We are exhausted, angry and very disappointed that we can’t be with our friends,” Angela Schrock said.

Kelli Vermaat, 23, was forced to cancel a trip to visit her grandparents in Gainesville, Ga., first because she couldn't get into Atlanta, then because snow found her departure city, Philadelphia. "I never thought I would say this, but I am officially sick of snow!"

Toni-Ann Smith, a student at Randolph Macon College, and 40 others were all set to fly to Brazil for a two-week travel course they have planned for more than a year, but snow canceled their flights into Atlanta. The next flight that can accommodate the large group won't be until next month, she was told. “This has ruined my whole month.” she said. “It is very disappointing.”

The snowstorm that slammed the deep South and churned its way into the Northeast is causing similar headaches for all kinds of travelers.

Airlines canceled more than 3,000 flights on Wednesday, mostly in the snowy Northeast, but they said travelers won't be stuck for days as they were after a Christmas weekend storm.

It will be easier to put stranded passengers on later flights, which aren't as full as they were during the holidays, according to the airlines.

Travelers affected by a canceled flight shouldn’t have problems rebooking. "Airlines are being very lenient with rescheduling," said George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com.

Some, including United and Continental, automatically rebooked passengers on the next open flight, said Megan McCarthy, a spokeswoman for those two airlines.

Travel in and out of New York, the nation's busiest airspace, was very limited until Wednesday afternoon. Officials at the region's three major airports said more than 1,700 flights were canceled, or about half the number that usually fly from there.

States across the South clean up after a major snowstorm, while the Northeast is again hit with several more inches of snow.

New York accounted for half the nation's 3,400 cancellations, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware. By late in the day flights were picking up at New York's LaGuardia, and airlines were even talking of adding extra planes to help stranded passengers.

American and Southwest canceled all flights into Boston's Logan Airport until Wednesday night.

The ripple effect from weather problems spread across the country. At San Francisco International, most morning flights to the East Coast were halted. This week's mess in Atlanta snarled air service out of Minneapolis, where Atlanta-based Delta carries nearly 80 percent of passenger traffic.

"We had a couple of days when very few flights were able to make it to or from Atlanta," said Minneapolis airport spokesman Patrick Hogan. "It's been a tough week for flying anywhere to or from the East Coast."

Delta expected to operate about 85 percent of its Atlanta schedule Wednesday. That counted as progress, coming two days after snow shut down Hartsfield-Jackson, the world's busiest airport.

Continental Airlines, which has a hub in Newark, N.J., canceled 485 flights, and United Airlines dropped 180. Southwest scrubbed 231 flights — everything before 5 p.m. into Boston, Manchester, N.H., Providence, R.I., and Hartford, Conn. The Hartford airport was open but closed periodically to clear snow from the main runway.

"Airlines will continue to pre-emptively cancel flights" due to the weather, Hobica predicted. "They don’t want to be stuck with 3-hour tarmac rule [violations]. One way to avoid them is by canceling."

The cancellations might not be a bad thing for travelers, Hobica added. "Rather than sleeping on an airport floor, sleep in your own bed."

AirTran told customers that because of the heavy call volume, they should rebook themselves on the company's website.

Delta said it was seeing high call volumes and had increased staffing and hours as a result. It also encouraged travelers to use delta.com for rebooking and to follow the airline on Twitter for customer assistance.

"Delta has worked to enhance our technology to empower customers to make changes to their travel plans without having to talk directly to a reservations agent," said Delta spokeswoman Susan Chan Elliott.

Delays that linger long after the snow stops falling aren't limited to the southeastern U.S. Last month, London's Heathrow Airport took nearly a week to completely recover after a few inches of snow fell. Virgin Atlantic Airways is protesting by withholding payments to airport operator BAA Ltd.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.