Midway flights delayed

Travelers waiting in line at a Southwest Airlines counter in Midway Airport last month on a day that Southwest canceled many flights because of bad weather. (Antonio Perez, Chicago Tribune / January 3, 2014)

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Storms that hit the Midwest and East Coast last month were to blame for 49,000 canceled flights, the highest number for any January in the last five years.

An additional 300,000 flights were delayed last month by U.S. airlines.

The cancellations last month even exceeded those caused by Hurricane Sandy in October and November of 2012, according to an analysis from MasFlight, an aviation operations technology company based in Bethesda, Md.

January's airline woes cost passengers more than $2.5 billion in lost productivity, hotel expenses and meals and inflicted $75 million to 150 million in losses to the airline industry, MasFlight said.

Two airline regulations enacted in recent years contributed to the high numbers of cancellations and delays, according to MasFlight.

Under a rule that took effect in 2010, airlines can be fined as much as $27,500 per passenger for keeping fliers on domestic flights stranded on delayed planes for more than three hours without an opportunity to leave the plane. Starting in 2011, airlines can face the same penalty if they leave fliers stranded on international flights for more than four hours.

To avoid the hefty fines, airlines are now more likely to cancel flights during bad weather,  MasFlight said.

Also, a new rule took effect Jan. 4 that imposed new limits on the amount of time U.S. pilots can be on duty without a period of rest.

Last month's cancellations and delays exceeded all January cancellations back to 2009.

New York-based JetBlue was impacted the most but regional carriers took the brunt of weather woes, with for 67% of last month's cancellations.

[For the record, 1:15 p.m. Feb 3: An earlier version of the story said Hurricane Sandy was in October and November of 2013. It was in 2012. Also, the earlier version said JetBlue had 67% of the cancellations last month. In fact, regional carriers as a whole had 67% of the cancellations. ]

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