Waiting at Richmond International Airport

Janie Funai, left, of Mechanicsville, Va., plays a game on her phone while waiting with her children Emma, 16, center, and Ben, 25, for a flight at Richmond International Airport in Virginia. (P. Kevin Morley / Richmond Times-Dispatch / February 13, 2014)

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The slew of storms that pummeled the nation’s Midwest and East Coast this winter has resulted in some horrible numbers: 77,000 canceled flights, carrying nearly 6 million passengers so far this year.

An additional 43 million people were on delayed flights.

At Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina, about 1,000 passengers slept in the terminal Thursday night because of 675 canceled flights in and out of the airport. The airport offered sleeping cots, blankets and baby items to delayed travelers.

But fewer passengers may be stranded at airports during the most recent monster storms. The reason: Airlines have gotten better about canceling flights long before travelers arrive and the bad weather hits.

Airlines attribute this change to better technology to forecast weather and improved communications with passengers via social media, text alerts and emails.

“By proactively canceling flights, you can minimize the impacts on your customers,” said Jean Medina, a spokeswoman for Airlines for America, the trade group for the nation’s airlines.

But some industry experts say airlines also cancel flights early to save on the cost of paying pilots and flight attendants to show up for flights that will ultimately sit on a tarmac for hours. They also say airlines cancel flights early to avoid being fined by the federal government for keeping passengers stranded on delayed flights.

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