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Associated Press photos
A passenger waits for a rescheduled flight after a weather-related cancellation this week in Atlanta. Snow and ice storms have spawned a record year for canceled flights.

Snow, ice set record in flight cancellations

Fliers pass a deserted ticketing area after hundreds of flights were canceled in advance of an Atlanta ice storm.

– The relentless snow and ice storms this winter have led to the highest number of flight cancellations in more than 25 years, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.

U.S. airlines have canceled more than 75,000 domestic flights since Dec. 1, including more than 14,000 this week. That’s 5.5 percent of the 1.37 million flights scheduled during that period, according calculations based on information provided by flight tracking site FlightAware.

It’s the highest total number and highest percent of cancellations since at least the winter of 1987-1988, when the Department of Transportation first started collecting cancellation data.

The nation’s air traffic system was still recovering Friday from the latest bout of bad weather. Flights were taking off again but thousands of passengers weren’t.

“This year is off to a brutal start for airlines and travelers,” FlightAware CEO Daniel Baker said. “Not only is each storm causing tens of thousands of cancellations, but there’s been a lot of them.”

And February still has two weeks left.

Nature isn’t entirely to blame. A mix of cost-cutting measures and new government regulations has made airlines more likely to cancel flights and leave fliers scrambling to get to their destination.

There were days this week where more than 70 percent of flights were canceled in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Charlotte, N.C. Even typically warm – or at least warmer – weather cities were not immune. The world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, was paralyzed Wednesday by ice and snow.

Bradley Voight, 25, was one of those passengers trapped in Atlanta after his Spirit Airlines flight to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Wednesday was canceled. After a night sleeping in the airport, he eventually got home late Thursday.

“It was fun because of the people I met, but it was terrible because of why I met them,” he said Friday.

Making things worse for travelers this winter, airlines have been cutting unprofitable flights and packing more passengers into planes. That’s been great for their bottom line but has created a nightmare for passengers whose flights are canceled because of a storm.

Other planes are too full to easily accommodate the stranded travelers.

Many passengers end up waiting days to secure a seat on another flight.

This winter is even more painful than 2000-2001, when 66,000 – or 4.2 percent of December, January and February scheduled flights – were scrapped.

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