Q.: What should passengers do?
A.: The good news is that if your flight is cancelled, the airlines will automatically rebook you on the next available flight. The bad news is that next flight could be a while if you're traveling to or from a city that is buried under a foot or more of snow.
If you're unhappy with your rebooked flight, pick up the phone and call the airline directly. Or go onto the airline's website and even consider sending a tweet.
Q.: How tough is it for the airlines to get operations back to normal?
A.: Flights won't start up immediately.
When Superstorm Sandy hit the New York area, JetBlue's Rob Maruster, the airline's chief operating officer, equated starting up the airline again to putting together a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. It's not about staffing levels, but an overall game plan that makes sense. "At a certain point, putting more hands on the table doesn't help get it solved faster," he said.
The airlines will need to ask a lot of questions before bringing in planes.
First, are the runways open?
Next, is there public transit to get workers to the airport? If not, does the airline have enough staff staying at nearby hotels that can be bused in?
Finally, the airline has to check on all the other people needed to run an airport: the Transportation Security Administration, customs officials, caters, fuel trucks and even the people who push wheelchairs through the terminal.
Daniel Baker, CEO of FlightAware, notes that the timing of this storm does work in the airlines' favor.
"Fortunately, Saturday is the lightest travel day of the week, so airlines can use the day to restart their operations in time for the Sunday evening travel rush," Baker says.
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