JetBlue earliest to cancel during storms, says fewer refunds result

Tue Apr 14, 2015 1:23am EDT
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By Jeffrey Dastin

NEW YORK (Reuters) - JetBlue Airways Corp (JBLU.O: Quote), the fifth biggest U.S. airline by passengers carried, consistently cancels flights sooner than rivals when storms pummel the U.S. Northeast, a tactic that may help its customers reach destinations more reliably, a Reuters analysis of flight data shows.

    Scrapping some flights hours ahead of a storm lets an airline re-allocate planes and crew earlier, meaning fewer flights and passengers canceled in total as a storm passes.

    Canceling early also spares travelers unnecessary trips to the airport and gives them more options to rebook, compared with cancellations that take place at the last minute. Early cancellations reduce requests for refunds, JetBlue's Chief Executive Officer Robin Hayes told Reuters.

    The Reuters analysis found that 41 percent of cancellations by the five biggest U.S. carriers this winter occurred 12 or more hours before scheduled departures. JetBlue led the pack, with 74 percent of its cancellations this winter taking place in that time frame, followed by United Continental Holdings Inc (UAL.N: Quote) at 43 percent.

    At the same time, the four largest U.S. airlines - American Airlines Group Inc (AAL.O: Quote), Delta Air Lines Inc (DAL.N: Quote), Southwest Airlines Co (LUV.N: Quote) and United - including the carriers they contract, canceled more than twice as many of their New York flights as JetBlue did this winter, data show.

    "Since the flights end up being canceled anyway, it's far better for consumers to know earlier," said Charlie Leocha, president of consumer advocacy group Travelers United.

    JetBlue's competitors attribute their later cancellations to different approaches they've taken and to the different routes they fly.

    Reuters reviewed non-public data from FlightView Inc, a flight information company, which showed how many flights U.S. airlines canceled 12 or more hours ahead of their scheduled departures, from December 2012 through March 2015. It also showed how many flights airlines scrapped in total during this time.   Continued...

An airport worker leads JetBlue planes onto the tarmac of the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York in this December 11, 2013, file photo. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/Files