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Airlines Cancel Flights As Storm Hits Northeastern U.S.

As a winter storm hits the East Coast, airlines scrambled to cancel flights, hoping to avoid the criticism that was levied against Jetblue when a storm last month snarled traffic for days.

JetBlue Airways canceled more than 200 flights, aiming to avoid the days of cancellations and criticism that followed a storm last month, an airline spokesman said.

The cancellations affected about one-third of all JetBlue flights. At New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, the airline ceased all of its operations on Friday, said airline spokesman Todd Burke.

AMR's American Airlines had canceled about 120 flights to or from New York and other Northeastern airports as of Friday morning, said spokeswoman Sonja Whitemon. Northwest Airlines canceled about 35 flights to or from the East Coast, all but a handful of them at Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty International, spokeswoman Tracy Carlson said.

A few JetBlue flights also were affected at LaGuardia, Newark and Boston's Logan International Airport, White said. In addition, the airline canceled 15 flights Thursday night, he said.

Delta Air Linescanceled about 250 flights in the Northeast, from Washington to Boston, spokeswoman Gina Laughlin said. The heaviest concentration was at Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark airports, she said.

"We began proactively canceling flights yesterday, which is pretty standard procedure for us in advance of significant wintry weather like this," she said.

She said it allows the airline to contact customers and accommodate changes in travel.

The cancellations came as the National Weather Service forecast three to six inches of snow and sleet in New York City, with more or less in its suburbs, depending on their location, according to meteorologist Peter Wichrowski.

The storm was moved up the East Coast early Friday as moist air from the southeast chugged toward a cold front over New York City and the Northeast, he said. While the weather was springlike in New York only a day before, "We're still in March, officially not out of the winter season," Wichrowski said.

"You still can see these potent storms this time of year."

JetBlue has been under pressure to do better in bad weather since passengers were stranded in planes at Kennedy for up to 10 1/2 hours during a storm last month. JetBlue was unable to resume normal operations for days afterward because flight crews weren't where they were supposed to be.

White said Friday's cancellations were intended to ensure that crews would be available where needed, and that departure gates would be free in case weather forced planes to return, he said.

"We're hopeful the plans we have in place will be effective and allow us to recover quickly," he said early Friday.

JetBlue has been striving to regain customers' esteem since a Feb. 14 snow and ice storm left hundreds of passengers marooned on parked planes at Kennedy. The airline had hoped to get through the storm without canceling flights, but later acknowledged it waited too long to ask airport authorities for help getting passengers off the stranded planes.

"We've always tried to take a wait-and-see approach with the weather ...believing that people want to get to their destination late, rather than never," White said Friday. But since the Feb. 14 storm - and the maelstrom of complaints that followed - JetBlue has had "a shift in thinking," he said.

In the last month, JetBlue also has unveiled a customer bill of rights that promises vouchers to passengers who experience delays. The airline also ran full-page newspaper advertisements apologizing to customers about the Valentine's Day problems.

Passengers whose flights were canceled Friday were offered refunds or a chance to rebook travel through April 30 without paying a fee for the change, White said.

New York-based JetBlue Airways normally operates about 600 flights a day to various destinations in the U.S., Bermuda and the Caribbean.

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