A combination of snow, ice, fog, and new rules brought the national air transportation system to its knees Monday, leaving thousands of passengers stranded at Logan International and airports around the country — some for as long as a week.
First, a nor’easter blew into Boston last week, causing airlines to cancel hundreds of flights as holiday travelers tried to get home. Then snow hit the Midwest, further snarling air traffic, while icy conditions briefly closed John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York Sunday, diverting dozens of flights into Boston.
Come Monday morning, unusually warm temperatures created a thick fog that made it impossible for some planes to land in Boston. Meanwhile, with new federal regulations increasing pilot rest periods taking effect over the weekend, all the weather delays led many pilots to max out their hours, leading to even more cancellations.
As a result, Logan was a scene of quiet mayhem. The airport put out 500 cots Sunday night to accommodate stranded travelers, many from flights diverted from New York. Early Monday, passengers unable to get through to rebook on overwhelmed airline websites and phone lines converged on the airport. Lines snaked through the terminals, with some passengers waiting five or six hours to talk to an agent and still not getting a flight home.
“It’s unusual to have so many weather events throughout the country lead to the amount of delays and cancellations we’ve seen,” said Richard Walsh, spokesman for the Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates Logan. “It’s lasting longer than what’s typical.”
Airline employees got an earful from some frustrated travelers, but most passengers seemed resigned to their fates. Several celebrated small victories, like two strangers in an Air Canada line who high-fived each other when they finally reached the front. Others passed the time by sharing stories of multiple canceled flights, extended stays with in-laws, and other tales of woe.
Brian and Lucy Goss got married in Salem on Saturday without the best man after his flight was canceled, but that wasn’t the end of their weather-related ordeals. They were on the runway Monday morning, ready to take off for their honeymoon in Costa Rica, when the American Airlines pilot announced that his copilot couldn’t fly because he had worked too many hours.
The copilot had apparently flown into Boston that morning, but had to circle for an hour due to fog, then fly to Hartford to refuel before the plane could land at Logan, Lucy Goss said.
The Gosses managed to get a flight to New York Monday night, where they planned to stay with Lucy’s maid of honor, then fly to Costa Rica on Tuesday.
“We’re pulling the honeymoon card as much as possible,” she said. “We keep smiling and showing our rings.”
American Airlines and US Airways, which are in the process of merging, canceled 1,000 flights on Monday, and 350 more Tuesday. “When things hit the fan like this, it’s just inevitable,” said Kent Powell, an American spokesman.
JetBlue Airways, Boston’s biggest carrier, said it took the “extremely unusual” step of reducing its schedule at four airports in New York, Boston, and Newark, canceling all departures at those facilities between 5 p.m. Monday and 10 a.m. Tuesday — 500 flights in all — to get its equipment serviced and bring its pilots into compliance with the new rules.
“We were fully prepared but didn’t foresee all the things that would happen this weekend,” said JetBlue spokesman Anders Lindstrom. “The best way to describe it is a domino effect.”
Kathy Johnstone of Seattle and Robin Rose of Sarasota, Fla., both here visiting grandchildren, met in the JetBlue line and ran into each other again at the food court.
“I think my son-in-law is beginning to think I’m never leaving,” Johnstone called out to Rose.
Johnstone was supposed to fly out Jan. 2 and is now booked on a Thursday flight, her fourth attempt to get home. Rose was supposed to leave at 5:45 a.m. Monday. She is now scheduled to leave next Monday.
Kate Thompson, sitting with her 13-year-old Lhasa Apso, Chuck, tucked into a pet carrier, was supposed to fly to Tampa Monday afternoon on JetBlue. “This is the third time change: 12:07, 12:48, 2:15,” she said. “I’m losing hope.”
But Thompson said she had no reason to complain compared with the travelers she talked to. There was the family from New Zealand sitting next to her who were supposed to leave last Friday, then Monday, and are now rebooked on a Wednesday flight.
Then there was the man standing wearily in front of a screen displaying canceled flights.
Noel Stout of Seattle drove through the snowstorm on Thursday with his girlfriend to catch a United Airlines flight in Providence, only to get a call that the flight was canceled.
They found a flight Sunday out of Boston, but that one was canceled while they waited to check in. They spent the night in a “junky hotel” by the airport and came back to Logan at 5 a.m. Monday to try again. They stood in line for six hours, and finally booked a flight out Thursday.
“I had a lot of time while I was in line to look up what my rights are. My rights are zilch,” Stout said, referring to what compensation airlines are required to provide passengers. “In Europe you get a hotel, a foot massage.”
Lisa Schmidt and Emily Jackson, paramedics from Melbourne, sat on the edge of an empty baggage carousel, their bags piled in front of them, as they tried to figure out how to continue their five-week journey across North America. With flights hard to come by, they were considering taking a 52-hour train ride to San Francisco.
“This is a nightmare,” Jackson said, putting her hands to her face and laughing. “But what are you going to do?”