More travel delays in Southeast as airports dig out

CNN/ Newswire | 1/29/2014, 1:40 p.m.
Nicole Herbert of Flemington, New Jersey, sat near Gate E66 at the Tampa International Airport waiting to see if her ...
Snow falling at the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson airport on Tuesday, January 28, 2014.

By Katia Hetter


(CNN) -- Nicole Herbert of Flemington, New Jersey, sat near Gate E66 at the Tampa International Airport waiting to see if her flight to Atlanta would take off.

It was set to depart at 12:15 p.m. Wednesday, but none of the flights from Tampa to Atlanta had taken off by about 11:30 a.m. "The pilot of our flight was supposed to fly in on a flight that was canceled," Herbert said. "It's life and you have to be safe and you just have to learn to go with it."

After flying to Atlanta, her plan is to catch a flight home to Philadelphia. "I have a lot of empathy for the struggles of people out there," Herbert said, referring to motorists stranded on Atlanta-area highways for hours in Tuesday's storm. "I have my water, and I'm comfy and cozy here in the airport."

Tampa and other airports across the Southeastern United States are recovering from the impact of the snowfall, assuring a long day Wednesday of flight cancellations and delays for frustrated travelers.

Airlines have already canceled 1,583 flights as of about 11 a.m. ET Wednesday, according to Mark Duell,'s vice president of operations. That follows 3,261 flight cancellations on Tuesday.

The airport most affected was Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, the world's busiest, with some 29% of flights canceled, Duell wrote via e-mail. AirTran Airways (46% of schedule canceled) and Delta Air Lines (18% of schedule canceled), which are based in Atlanta, felt the impact the most among airlines.

"This spate of winter weather has hit a lot of airports that usually don't face winter weather and are less prepared for it," Duell said via e-mail. "An airport like Houston IAH (George Bush Intercontinental Airport) has more daily flights than Detroit, but less than a third as many de-icing trucks, so when every flight needs de-icing they see a massive slowdown in departures and the airlines pre-emptively cancel flights."

With roads treacherous across the Southeast, airports are struggling to return to normal operations.

Alabama's Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport shut down flight operations Tuesday afternoon as the snowfall began, and "crews worked overnight and continue to work this morning to clear the (two) runways," wrote airport spokeswoman Toni Herrera-Bast. One runway reopened midday Wednesday.

Even at airports whose personnel can clear the runways, as they have in Atlanta, travelers may not able to navigate the roads to get to the airport or leave the airport to get home.

With more than 900 flights canceled Tuesday, some passengers intending to depart Atlanta stayed overnight, airport spokesman Reese McCranie said. As of 6 a.m. ET Wednesday, airlines had already announced 317 flight cancellations, McCranie said.

For Southwest Airlines, which also owns the AirTran brand, Atlanta and Houston are important hubs. And both airports have been hard hit by this winter weather.

Southwest and AirTran have already canceled 325 of 3,600 scheduled flights Wednesday. The combined airline canceled nearly 400 flights Tuesday.

"Our people in Atlanta, in particular, are facing a challenging day," said Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins via e-mail. "We are evaluating many different facets: road conditions, airfield and airport, runway/taxiway conditions. What you're seeing there in Atlanta is a continuing operation but an extremely slow operation, resulting in just a few departures every hour."