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Storm weather leads to surge in flight cancellations

More than 4,700 flights, or nearly 7 percent of those scheduled, have been canceled at Logan, from December to February 2014.

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

More than 4,700 flights, or nearly 7 percent of those scheduled, have been canceled at Logan, from December to February 2014.

The experience of flying has become even more trying for travelers this winter as a series of crippling storms has led to a surge of flight cancellations at Logan International Airport and across the country.

The number of flights canceled at Logan has nearly doubled since Dec. 1 compared to approximately the same period a year ago, according to FlightView Inc., a day-of-travel information company in Newton. More than 4,700 flights, or nearly 7 percent of those scheduled, have been canceled at Logan.

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Nationally, the number of cancellations has doubled, with more than 95,500 flights canceled so far this winter, Flightview said. An analysis by the Associated Press shows flight cancellations by US airlines this winter are the highest in more than 25 years.

FlightView chief executive Mike Benjamin said weather is only partially to blame for the winter’s increase. Airlines have also been changing the way they plan for and handle cancellations, in large part because they have more accurate forecasts telling them when the weather is about to turn nasty.

“This winter has been the toughest on air travel in recent memory,” Benjamin said. “Airlines are more proactively canceling flights to get ahead of passengers’ frustrations. By canceling flights earlier than usual, travelers aren’t forced to wait out the storm at the airport, and airlines can ensure that their planes don’t get stuck in stormy cities.”

‘Snow in other parts of the country can have a big impact on us.’

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New federal regulations increasing the rest period for pilots took effect earlier this year and have been part of the problem. Carriers have begun preemptively scrubbing flights when storms threaten, rather than risk having their pilots max out their hours as they wait to be cleared for takeoff.

On Thursday, nearly 5,500 domestic flights were canceled as a storm swept through several states, according to FlightView.

At Logan, airlines scrapped 39 percent of the scheduled flights, as the storm dropped 3.3 inches of wet, slushy snow. Another 5 to 7 inches is expected to fall in the area starting mid-Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.

“This winter has been very heavy on snow,” said Thomas P. Glynn, chief executive of the Massachusetts Port Authority, which oversees Logan. “It has almost been storm of the week.”

So much snow has fallen in Boston this winter, Glynn joked, that a phone call during Thursday’s storm might have caught him in tears. The series of storms has been a challenge for airlines, Glynn said, not only because snow must be cleared from runways before flights can take off, but also because planes and crews are coming in from different parts of the country to man flights leaving Boston.

“The real issue is, did the flight come in from Atlanta? Did the crew come in from Pittsburgh?” Glynn said. “Snow in other parts of the country can have a big impact on us.”

Erin Ailworth can be reached at eailworth@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ailworth.

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