More than half of Charlotte Douglas International Airport’s daily flights were canceled Wednesday, and airline officials warned that major disruptions would continue Thursday as a winter storm dumped snow and ice on the region.
In the terminal, officials were prepared Wednesday night to accommodate stranded passengers. But the airline’s early cancellations kept many passengers away.
“Our goal is to cancel flights before our customers arrive at the airport,” said US Airways spokeswoman Michelle Mohr.
By late Wednesday, US Airways had decided to cancel about half its Thursday flights nationwide. Mohr said that all US Airways arrivals at Charlotte Douglas before 10 a.m. Thursday were canceled. All departures before 11 a.m. Thursday were canceled as well.
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With the storm expected to move north, US Airways cut 50 percent of its Thursday flights at its Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. hubs, as well as 50 percent of flights at New York’s LaGuardia.
Early cancellations can be especially important at a hub airport like Charlotte Douglas, where more than 75 percent of passengers are connecting to their final destination rather than starting or ending their trip. If they get stranded at a connecting hub, passengers are likely to be hundreds or even thousands of miles from both home and their destination.
In total, more than 900 flights to or from Charlotte Douglas were canceled by Wednesday night, according to FlightStats.com. The vast majority of those were US Airways flights. The airline, which merged with American Airlines in December, said that it canceled a large number of regional flights operated on smaller jets at Charlotte Douglas.
Only Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson International Airport had more flights than Charlotte Douglas scrubbed because of Wednesday’s weather – almost 2,200 flights. Delta Air Lines, which operates a major hub in Atlanta, canceled 1,149 flights.
Airport ready for stranded passengers
About 80 passengers spent Tuesday night in the airport, said Martha Edge, Charlotte Douglas’ terminal operations manager. But Edge said the airport was prepared for more travelers grounded in the terminal Wednesday night.
“If needed, we have cots and mats we’re able to distribute,” Edge said. “We’re preparing for the worst, as far as people stuck in Charlotte.”
Herbert Judon, Charlotte Douglas’ assistant aviation director, said airlines have gotten better about canceling flights before bad weather and not stranding passengers in hub airports in recent years.
“The airlines obviously realize it’s better to be inconvenienced at home,” he said.
Crews managed to keep two of the airport’s three parallel runways open Wednesday. They let the third close because of the airlines’ reduced schedule. The airport de-iced about 120 planes, fewer than the 200 Charlotte Douglas cleaned off on Tuesday, when the snow was much lighter.
The airlines’ flight cancellations led to reduced demand for de-icing services, officials said.
To keep the airport operational, Charlotte Douglas put employees on 12-hour shifts, one during the day and one overnight.
“I’m tired,” said Judon on Wednesday morning. “I’ve been up the last 14 hours.”
But he and Edge said airport personnel accept that they have to work long hours to accommodate passengers during storms.
“We realize it’s part of the job to work long hours and be on the front lines when other people are relaxing at home,” Judon said. “To some extent, I’ll say we enjoy it.”