A travel expert says airlines are preemptively canceling more flights to avoid fines under new federal rules.
When Continental Airlines canceled Rick Seaneys's flight from Houston to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport on Friday, the founder of FareCompare.com rented a car and drove home instead of waiting another day for the next available flight.
"By the time we got back to Dallas, the skies were clear on Friday, and that flight could have taken off that they canceled," he said.
Fort Worth-based American Airlines canceled 300 flights at DFW Airport on Friday afternoon because of severe weather.
"I think that a lot of preemptive canceling -- especially when they see things like this occurring -- is happening," Seaney said.
He said he is convinced new federal tarmac rules with massive fines for flights waiting more than three hours to take off are causing more flight cancellations.
"There's no doubt that airlines are doing preemptive cancellations for these things," Seaney said. "They have to. They're not going to be hit with $3 million fines for (a) 135-seat airplane. It's just not going to happen."
Several airlines, including American and Houston-based Continental, warned before the rules went into effect that they would cancel flights rather than risk fines.
AA spokesman Tim Smith said flights would have been canceled because of Fridays storms even without the tarmac rules.
"We have always pre-canceled flights prior to passenger boarding and leaving the gate during such extreme weather," he said in an e-mail. "Similar weather prior to the three-hour rule being implemented would have also resulted in hundreds of cancellations."
Seaney said the big issue is what to do with all the people who are stuck without a flight.
"Unfortunately, there's so much fewer flights in the air, there's nowhere to put these people, and that's really the big issue," he said.
But the worst may be yet to come.
"Nobody really knows what's going to happen until these late June thunderstorms start rolling in for two or three hours at a time," Seaney said.
And if a flight isn't canceled before leaving the gate, Continental Airlines is telling pilots to make a decision after two hours on the tarmac -- either stay in place if they think the can take off within the next hour or go back to the gate.
"Airlines basically have said that this is such a punitive penalty for the three-hour rule that at about two-and-a-half hours -- even earlier than that on some airlines -- they're going to turn back to the terminal and cancel the flight," Seaney said.