If the relentless winter we just endured left you stranded at an airport, you had company. A record amount of it, in fact.
The Associated Press reports the long winter, which set new standards for snowfall, icy conditions and deep freeze temperatures in many spots across the country, was the worst on record for fliers. The Department of Transportation, which has collected data on flight cancellations for the past two decades, announced Tuesday that U.S. airlines canceled 4.6 percent of their flights in the first three months of 2014.
USA Today did the math, noting that if 4.6 percent of the nation's 1.4 million domestic flights were grounded, that meant 64,419 flights didn't get off the ground. Flights that weren't canceled were often delayed. The on-time arrival rate in the first three months of the year was 72.1 percent — the fourth-lowest in 20 years.
The AP story notes that a relatively new regulation makes airlines quicker to cancel flights. In 2010, a rule that prohibits airlines from keeping passengers on the tarmac for three hours or more took effect. As a result, airlines sometimes cancel blocks of flights well advance of a storm to avoid potential fines that can soar as high as $27,500 per passenger – that's $4.1 million for a plane carrying 150 travelers.
Not surprisingly, passengers flying on Hawaiian Airlines had the best chance of reaching their destination on time – no polar vortex gumming things up there. ExpressJet had the worst performance, with American Eagle and Southwest also ranked at the bottom.
While wintry conditions caused slowdowns at Minneapolis-St. Paul International and other airports in the region, the stackups and backups of planes and passengers were never as pronounced as in southern cities that were ill-equipped to clear runways of snow and ice.