US airlines to halt Northeast flights for storm

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Two flights to Boston are listed as canceled at Philadelphia International Airport, Friday, Feb. 8, 2013, in Philadelphia. Airlines have already canceled more than 2,700 Friday flights as they get ready for a storm that threatens to dump up to 3 feet of snow from New York City to Boston. Flight-tracking website FlightAware shows 728 cancellations at the three big airports in the New York area. Another 191 flights to or from Boston have been scrubbed, and 137 in Toronto. AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Most airlines were giving up on flying in and out of New York, Boston and other airports in the U.S. Northeast on Friday as a massive storm threatened to dump up to a meter of snow in some parts.

Airlines were generally shutting down operations in the afternoon at the three big New York-area airports as well as Boston and other Northeastern airports. They were hoping to resume flights on Saturday.

Flight-tracking website FlightAware said airlines had canceled more than 4,200 flights on Friday and Saturday in advance of the storm.

The snow was snarling air travel in Canada, too, with 240 flights canceled on Friday at Pearson International Airport in Toronto. The storm was expected to dump up to 11 inches (29 centimeters) of snow.

Many travelers were steering clear of the region altogether. Airlines waived the usual fees to change tickets for flights in the affected areas.

Airlines began canceling Saturday flights on Friday, hours before the storm was due to hit, said Daniel Baker, CEO of FlightAware. “That’s when the meteorologists start to have reliable predictions and the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) holds conference calls to discuss which airports are shutting down,” he said.

Airlines try to get ahead of big storms by canceling flights in advance rather than hope that they can operate in bad weather.

Storms like this one jam up airline call centers, so airlines are increasingly automating the process of re-booking passengers.

Delta is rolling out software it calls “VIPER” — Virtual Inconvenienced Passenger Expedited Reprotection — to automatically find a replacement flight for passengers whose flights have been canceled.

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