Thunderstorm makes it a bad day for air travelers

The Baltimore Sun

For airline travelers in Baltimore and to the north, yesterday was a really bad day among many bad days this summer.

An afternoon thunderstorm briefly shut down or delayed traffic at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport and several other airports, causing delays to ripple throughout the rest of the day. The longest waits were in New York and Boston, said the Federal Aviation Administration.

"It was a tough day," said Whitney Eichinger, a spokeswoman for Southwest Airlines, which is BWI's largest carrier and also serves airports in Philadelphia and the New York and Boston regions. "Unfortunately, we've had worse days. But it's a difficult situation for our customers when this happens."

She couldn't say how many planes were delayed or canceled, but delays in Baltimore ranged from 40 minutes to slightly more than two hours after the storm, she said.

AirTran Airways, the airport's second-largest carrier, said six of its 10 canceled flights yesterday were at BWI.

A spokesman for the airport said the bad weather moved through the region quickly, but the damage was done.

The waiting drew complaints from travelers, including Pierre Pons of Nashville, Tenn. He was trying to fly home yesterday after a business trip, but his 6:40 p.m. flight on Southwest was pushed to 10 p.m.

"I'm just going to sit here and eat, check my e-mail and call anybody who will talk to me," he said from a cafe near the security gate in the Southwest terminal.

Charlie Nietubicz was struggling just to get to his business meeting. He and two colleagues at the Army Research Lab in Adelphi were scheduled to leave Baltimore for Detroit on a 4:30 p.m. Northwest Airlines flight. It was pushed back to 6:30 p.m. and then canceled. He bought another ticket on Southwest that was scheduled for 8:30 p.m.

"When I picked up my boarding pass, it said my 8:30 flight was now at 11," he said. "All for a one-day meeting."

Weather has been a toxic component this summer, which has produced some of the worst months of travel on record. Other factors are the large number of people flying and the planes that are filled to near capacity. Because there are few empty seats, the growing number of travelers can't easily rebook.

The U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics reported that in June, the latest data available, 68.1 percent of flights arrived on time - one of the worst months on record. In June last year, 72.8 percent arrived on time.

At BWI, 68.9 percent of flights arrived on time this June, compared with 70.1 percent in June last year.

The bureau said extreme weather was responsible for almost 1.5 percent of delays in June. National Aviation System delays, which includes congestion and less extreme weather, accounted for another 9 percent.

And today might be another one for the record books. The National Weather Service says there's a chance for more thunderstorms. The chance of rain is 50 percent.

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