JetBlue cancels New York flights as weather cripples operations

JetBlue Airways, struggling to resume normal flights after winter storms that began last week, will temporarily halt service at all three New York-area airports and its base in Boston.

Operations are winding down at New York's Kennedy and LaGuardia airports, New Jersey's Newark Liberty and Boston Logan before stopping at 5pm local time (9am Tuesday AEDT), and won't resume until 10am tomorrow, JetBlue spokesmen said. The New York-based carrier said it scrubbed 526 flights as of 4pm.

JetBlue is counting on the suspension to give it time to reposition planes and crews after fresh snow fell yesterday in Chicago on the heels of a storm that lashed the Northeast US. Those systems snarled flights as the first full work week of 2014 got under way and holiday travel drew to a close.

"They'll take the hit for doing this," said Robert Mann, who runs aviation consultant RW Mann & Co in Port Washington, New York. "But at least they will have given their customers some certainty. The big test is whether service restarts as anticipated."

JetBlue's cancellations erased more than half of the airline's daily schedule of about 900 flights, according to Anders Lindstrom, a spokesman.

Industry Totals

Industrywide cancellations today in the US exceeded 3700, pushing the total past 10,000 in four days, as other carriers struggled to rebuild their schedules, industry data tracker reported.

Southwest Airlines suspended flights into Chicago's Midway International Airport until at least later this afternoon as an arctic cold front gripped the city, Dan Landson, a spokesman for the Dallas-based carrier, said by phone. Southwest is the busiest airline at Midway.

Temperatures as low as -25 degrees in Chicago prompted airlines to cancel about 1600 flights at O'Hare International Airport and 85 at Midway, the city's aviation department said in a press release.

JetBlue's disruptions probably will evoke memories of its six-day effort to recover from an ice storm on February 14, 2007, Mann said. Planes were grounded across the airline's network, stranding fliers on jets and in terminals for as long as 10 hours.

Shares Slump

The shares fell 4.3 per cent to $US8.66 ($9.66) at the close in New York, its biggest decline since April. The stock rose 49 per cent last year, the sixth-best return among nine carriers in the Bloomberg US Airlines Index.

JetBlue is the biggest domestic carrier by passengers at both Kennedy and Logan airports, according to data compiled by the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics. New York's airports together make up the busiest US travel market, and disruptions there can ripple through the nation's airspace.

"While we have to reduce operations in our Northeast cities today, we'll take the opportunity to use some of those planes and crews for extra sections between cities where we they're most needed and move crews in preparation for starting back up on Tuesday," JetBlue said on its website.

The airline also said its toll-free customer service number was suffering from unspecified "issues," and asked for travelers' patience while that line was restored.