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Airlines Gradually Resume Flights After Blizzard Hits Mid-Atlantic Region


Some parts of the eastern U.S. are faring better than others after the mammoth weekend blizzard. More than 30 people died as a result of the storm, many of them in car accidents. Several people died while shoveling snow, and there were also a few instances of carbon monoxide poisoning. In southern New England and the mid-Atlantic, transportation systems are still having problems, and flying is especially messy.

NPR's David Schaper reports that airlines may not be moving people normally until late in the week.

ANTONIO LOWE: Come on, E. We have to go, man. E, we have to go.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Antonio Lowe is trying to hustle his 13-year-old son up to the TSA checkpoint at New York's LaGuardia Airport.

LOWE: We're getting ready to go up through security because we have to get in there, and the line is long.

SCHAPER: Ivn Lowe came up from Atlanta to celebrate his 13th birthday with his dad, but the two spent much of the weekend snowed in.

IVN LOWE: It ruined it a lot. And I don't feel good, so I don't want to talk a lot.

SCHAPER: Ivn was on schedule to return home as airports such as LaGuardia reopened and airlines resumed operations, albeit on a limited scale.

DANIEL BAKER: We've seen over 12,000 flights canceled over the five-day period.

SCHAPER: Daniel Baker is CEO of the flight tracking service flightaware.com. He says post-winter storm, things are looking up, with fewer flights canceled today than on Sunday. But he says there are still a couple of hundred flights already canceled for Tuesday.

BAKER: Basically, the airlines are saying look, we're not going to have our airplanes and our crews back into position like we had anticipated, and they're canceling these flights because it's not possible to operate them, but they're doing it now to let passengers know, hey, you need to make alternate arrangements.

SCHAPER: New government rules and hefty fines for leaving passengers on planes sitting on the tarmac for hours on end has led airlines to cancel more flights proactively. In addition, several airlines moved their planes out of the hardest hit airports before the heavy snow started falling. Ross Feinstein is a spokesman for American Airlines.

ROSS FEINSTEIN: Well, as everyone knows, if you live in a snowy environment, it's always very difficult to plow around your car or your vehicle in your driveway, and the same applies at airports.

SCHAPER: Feinstein says moving the planes out of the way into warm and dry locations allows airport personnel to plow, remove and melt the snow much more quickly and efficiently.

FEINSTEIN: Also, when you have three feet of snow or possibly ice on aircraft, you have to de-ice each individual aircraft, which could take 30 or 40 minutes per aircraft, so that takes additional time. The best way to restore an operation - and most carriers in the United States do this - we move our aircraft out of the affected areas.

SCHAPER: The more complicated task for airlines is rescheduling pilots, flight attendants, gate agents and other airline employees and then getting them to the airports when they reopen with roads still somewhat impassable and transit systems not fully operational. So with many flights still canceled, some travelers are looking for alternate means.

SUSAN RUFFO: So I need to get up to New York because I have to move out of an apartment before my lease ends (laughter) at the end of the week.

SCHAPER: Susan Ruffo was scrambling to catch an Amtrak train this morning at Washington, D.C.'s Union Station.

RUFFO: I've had to reschedule my train several times in. My husband's flying in to meet me from Seattle. He's rescheduled his flight several times, so we're hoping this is all going to work out.

SCHAPER: The trains are back up and running, although still on a somewhat reduced schedule. The bigger problem for Ruffo may be getting a moving van down New York's streets and moving furniture over huge snowbanks.

David Schaper, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.

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