Airline Industry Still Feeling The Effects Of Sandy

Superstorm Sandy is still having a major impact on air travel. Airlines have canceled thousands of flights nationwide, and it will likely be days before air travel is back to normal.

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Airlines canceled more than 17,000 flights before, during, and after the storm. New York's JFK and Newark Airport in New Jersey re-opened this morning, with limited service. For other airports, it may be days before their first flights take off. All told, Sandy is expected to cost the domestic airline industry $100 million - money it can't really afford to lose.

Still, as NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports, the news hasn't been all that bad.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: The airline industry has learned from the past nightmares of its own making. Instead of having tens of thousands of passengers stranded in airports, screaming at helpless ticket agents, the airlines canceled flights in advance of Sandy's arrival. So the airports were largely empty. And that means most passengers and airline staff are now relaxed and rested so that when it is time to fly, normal human beings will be boarding those airplanes, not frazzled, sleep-deprived psychopaths.

Still inconvenient, but Paul Flaningan, spokesman at Southwest Airlines says, quite the difference.

PAUL FLANINGAN: We've learned a lot. I mean this was a hurricane so, of course, we can track the path. But even as early as 24 hours before, we're deciding on where we're going to move our planes, where we're going to proactively cancel flights, so that way, the traveling public is not caught, you know, flat-footed at the airport. And then once they hit, we can - the more planning you do, the quicker you can get back - get your operations back up and running.

GOODWYN: How badly any one particular airline has been affected depends on how much business it does in the East. United canceled 4,700 flights. Delta 2,900. You wouldn't think Southwest Airlines would be badly hurt until you remember it now owns Air Tran.

Flaningan says 1,700 canceled flights and counting.

FLANINGAN: In most of the airports we're going to be back to normal pretty soon. But I think the hardest hit, which is LaGuardia, and the New York area, and then Newark, even Philadelphia, to a certain extent, it might take a couple days for us to see normal operations in those areas.

GOODWYN: Here's the problem facing travelers and their carriers now. Even in normal flying conditions, airplanes are almost always full these days - 87 percent full on average, to be exact. So where are they going to put all these travelers who were on those canceled flights?

Tim Husted is an executive at Carlson Wagonlit, the largest corporate travel agency in the country. And it's his staff who will try to find answers for thousands of northeast business travelers.

TIM HUSTED: From our perspective, a lot of business travelers may cancel the trip altogether. So at this point they don't necessarily need to end up in their destination. The entire meeting may have been canceled or it's going to be rescheduled later than simply at the end of this week. And so, for many people, they've simply canceled their trips on the corporate side.

GOODWYN: But that still leaves all the business travelers who were mid-trip and still need to get home. They could always go by alternative mode of transportation and share a motel room with a portly but friendly shower ring salesman.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "TRAINS PLANES AND AUTOMOBILES")

STEVE MARTIN: (as Neal Page) Del?

JOHN CANDY: (as Del Griffith) Hey.

MARTIN: (as Neal Page) Why did you kiss my ear?

CANDY: (as Del Griffith) Why are you holding my hand?

MARTIN: (as Neal Page) Where is your other hand?

CANDY: (as Del Griffith) Between the two pillows.

MARTIN: (as Neal Page) Those aren't pillows.

GOODWYN: Wade Goodwyn, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "TRAINS PLANES AND AUTOMOBILES")

MARTIN: (as Neal Page) See that Bears game last week?

CANDY: (as Del Griffith) Yeah. Hell of a game. Hell of game. Bears got a great team this year.

MARTIN: (as Neal Page) They're going to go all the way.

CANDY: (as Del Griffith) Oh, yeah.

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