Have you ever headed to Kennedy Airport, excited to be going on a trip, submitted to security, and waited patiently at the gate when you found out your flight departure time was postponed? You sat at the gate and watched lightning flash outside the large picture window. Then you waited some more and thought the storm seemed to be passing.
However, you found your flight was delayed more, and you waited until one in the morning, at which time all of a sudden a wave of passengers suddenly began sprinting forward and you thought they were boarding at last? Until you glanced at the gate sign and saw a new destination posted. Why did that sign say Syracuse? You weren’t going to Syracuse. Then, alas, you discovered your flight was canceled?
Well, that’s what happened to this writer on Thursday night, September 23, when a thunderstorm disrupted my travel plans. I didn’t realize at the time how many other travelers’ plans were disrupted. Apparently, JetBlue canceled or delayed a very large number of its flights. Some passengers were stranded for up to 25 hours.
So, all at once, we were swept along the stream of passengers dragging carry-ons heading towards the baggage claim. I asked an airline employee whom we passed, “Will we be able to retrieve our bags? Our flight to Phoenix was canceled.”
He appeared relieved that I was polite and wasn’t complaining like many others, and he nodded. “Just go to the baggage claim area. Your baggage will be there.” That flow of passengers, which I just mentioned, streamed into a line that stretched the distance from Jewel Avenue to Union Turnpike. It was really, really long.
“Do you think they’re lined up waiting for their baggage?” my daughter asked.
I doubted that.
It turned out they were lined up to rebook flights.
We called my daughter in Arizona and told her we weren’t able to come. She was so disappointed. I felt bad causing her such a big disappointment.
I asked a passenger how she felt about the flight cancellation.
“It’s ridiculous,” she said. “The storm is over. But anyway, they should have just canceled to begin with, instead of making us stay all night at the airport.”
We were grateful that we were able to quickly reclaim our baggage in the arrivals area and call someone at home to come pick us up. We met another passenger at the baggage area who wasn’t as lucky. He was methodically moving suitcase after suitcase into a pile. He said he was traveling from India, and New York was not his final destination. However, he was now stuck in the airport for an indefinite period of time. I felt so bad for him.
It turned out that, “the bulk of cancellations...were the result of dangerous thunderstorms in South Florida and the Northeast on Thursday night, September 23, and into the next morning. This weather leads to airport closures and air traffic control programs. Whenever these weather events take place, they can also create residual impacts as we work to reposition aircraft and crews,” a JetBlue spokesperson told Insider.
According to data from FlightAware, 50% of JetBlue flights were disrupted on Thursday, with 44% being delayed and 6% being canceled. The airline had the highest ratio of flight disruptions compared to other carriers, including Southwest and American, which only had 20% of flights delayed and 1% and 2% canceled, respectively.
Delta Air Lines, which, according to the airline, has the largest operation at New York’s JFK International Airport, only had 17% of its flights delayed and 0% canceled on Thursday.
Hundreds of flight cancellations this summer were due to weather and labor shortages. In June, American Airlines canceled 80 flights a day because of bad weather. Apparently, thousands of passengers had to deal with delays or canceled flights since June.
Of course, I do not want to fly in a dangerous weather situation. In general, I prefer travel that stays on the ground, even though I know cars are more dangerous than planes. I board the plane armed with T’hilim and reminders that since I’m frightened of flying, this is a test of emunah for me to be flying up into the air. I try to focus on positives, like I do enjoy the view once the plane takes off and when it is flying smoothly. The part that I find unsettling is the turbulence that sometimes happens when the plane rocks up and down. I’m totally not a rollercoaster fan.
I once interviewed an airline flight attendant after a particularly bumpy ride back from Arizona. When I asked her how she remained so calm during all the bumps, she laughed and said, “It’s just potholes in the air.”
In July, according to FlightAware, “a flight-tracking platform, airlines canceled up to three percent of their flights; the normal figure is less than one percent. On-time rates, normally close to 80 percent, fell to between 60 and 70 percent. (Airlines dispute the figures; American, for example, said it canceled about 1.5 percent of its flights in July and its on-time arrivals rate was nearly 77 percent.) The statistics are even worse for Spirit, which canceled up to half its departures in early August.”
“Demand came back, incredibly fast, and I think a lot of carriers in the US really stretched their capacity,” said Mark Duell, a vice president at FlightAware, which began publishing a Misery Map to show delays and cancellations by airport. The aggressive schedules many airlines proposed left “no slack in the system” to account for events like bad weather, he added.
If an airline cancels a flight, passengers are entitled to a refund according to the Department of Transportation. This also includes a significant delay, though what constitutes a significant delay is not specified.
American Airlines said that if the delay is because of “irregular operations,” such as weather, customers are eligible for a refund if the delay or rescheduled flight is more than 90 minutes. (Passengers may also request a refund if a schedule change happens at least 72 hours before departure and is four hours or more).
“Look for alternatives,” said Gary Leff, who writes the aviation blog View From the Wing. “You may be able to buy a ticket on another airline for less than you expect. Or a modest increment might be worth it.”
Ultimately, we believe that everything happens for a reason because Hashem is orchestrating all the events in our lives. The airline rebooked us for a Friday night flight, which of course didn’t work for us, but, baruch Hashem, we were able to change it and rebook it for a Sunday morning flight and still catch the end of Yom Tov with our daughter and her family in Arizona.
Flying has its own set of challenges, but it still is miraculous the way we can be in one place in the morning and a whole different place in the afternoon. Air travel provides a way for us to spend time with family and friends, and Hashem’s world is so full of wonders. Those delays and cancellations are just potholes in our travel plans. Thank you, Hashem! Thank you!
By Susie Garber