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plane getting de-icedFor millions of travelers who have had to get somewhere this winter, the unforgiving weather has taken a momentous toll. And there is more to come; the National Weather Service warns that more snow and ice is on the way, reports an article in The New York Times. Last month alone, nearly 40,000 flights were canceled in the United States, approximately four times the previous two January totals, according to FlightAware, a flight-tracking company.

Republic Airways, a regional carrier, reported last week that it completed only 85% of its scheduled flights in January, compared with 96% last year. It’s a similar story with the nation’s other carriers, too.

“I think we’ve seen in the month of January alone a series of storms that have literally impacted every one of the major hub cities,” Robert W. Mann, an industry consultant, told The Times. “When you shut these airports down, you literally stop commerce.” The last time he remembered a winter this bad was in the mid-1990s. “I think we’re probably looking at that 20-year sort of winter,” he said.

But 20 years ago, there was more flexibility in the system, with planes flying at lower capacity and a hub-and-spoke system that was not as finely tuned. “It shows how fragile the domestic system is,” Mr. Mann stated.

Mark Duell, vice president for operations at FlightAware, explained that maintenance schedules and crew hours added to the problem of having planes grounded in one location when they needed to be in another. “The airlines are pretty thin on spares,” he said in the article. “There’s not a lot of excess capacity.”

A contained, regional snowstorm can easily have nationwide implications

With flights grounded across the country and treacherous driving conditions keeping people off the roads, a storm in Dallas can mean being stranded for days in Nashville. Ice in Atlanta can disrupt a Boston-to-Chicago trip. And snow in Washington can turn a cross-country flight into a 19-hour ordeal.

With these daunting conditions, some travelers have had to turn to other means of transportation, like buses, trains or rental cars. And when delays are measured in days rather than hours, intrepid travelers are forced to get creative, hitting the local shopping mall for hanging-around-the-airport clothing when all they’ve packed are business suits and heels.

So if you’re planning on flying anytime soon this winter, we at Cabeau have one piece of advice: be sure you have a Plan B.

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