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Looming storm cancels hundreds of flights to Northeast

The big storm heading for the Northeast is already disrupting air travel.

The aviation tracking website FlightAware shows United Airlines has already canceled more than 370 flights for Friday in advance of the storm. New England could get smacked with up to 2 feet of snow, while New York City is currently expecting 4 to 6 inches.

FlightAware shows that airports with the most cancellations on Friday are Newark Liberty, Boston’s Logan International and LaGuardia, in that order.

On Thursday, the biggest weather problems are in Chicago. O’Hare has seen 84 canceled departures.

Delta Air Lines Inc., which has a hub at New York’s LaGuardia, said it is still putting its weather plan together. As of midafternoon on Thursday it had canceled 99 flights for Friday, according to FlightAware. American Airlines has scrapped 43 flights.

United and Delta have both issued so-called “weather waivers,” allowing passengers flying in the storm-affected areas on Friday or Saturday to change their flight date without paying a change fee.

Just a few years ago, a powerful storm dumping two feet of snow on the Northeast would have brought havoc to some of the region’s busiest airports. Passengers would sit on a plane for hours, hoping to take off. Families slept on airport floors with luggage piled up around them. The only meal options came from vending machines.

Now, having learned from storm mismanagement and the bad public relations that followed, U.S. airlines have rewritten their severe weather playbooks. They’ve learned to cancel flights early and keep the public away from airports, even if that means they’ll have a bigger backlog to deal with once conditions improve.

In addition, reservation systems have been programmed to automatically rebook passengers when flights are canceled. And travelers now receive notifications by email, phone or text message.

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