Summertime Blues: How
It's Going on the Road
Strikes, hurricanes, thunderstorms, demonstrations. Computer meltdowns. You name it, it's happened on the road this summer, which has featured record heat in Europe, protests at Hong Kong Airport and the de rigeur threat of summer strikes at London's Heathrow Airport. Here is how we've covered it. Read up from the bottom for the context.

8/31/19, 12:45PM ET, SATURDAY

Hurricane Dorian has grown into a monstrous Category 4 storm with sustained winds of 150 miles per hour. The big news--I mean, besides the storm's growth--is its path. It seems to be on target to slam into the Bahamas tonight and tomorrow and then turn north and west. Best guess--stress guess--among the experts is that it will turn north after reaching Florida and hang offshore of Georgia and the Carolinas.

The worst news: The storm is slow, moving at just eight miles per hour. Which means it can do days of damage and disruption. The state of Florida remains in the "cone of possibility"--that's a close cousin of the cone of silence made famous in Get Smart---as well as coastal areas of Georgia and the Carolinas.

Travel in the southeastern United States in the next few days is completely, um, up in the air. With several exceptions (see below) airlines continue to limit their travel waivers to Florida airports. Several of those airports have posted closing notices for the weekend. But if your destination mid-week is along the coast of the Carolinas or Georgia--or if you're planning to travel via American's Charlotte hub--there is real reason for concern. Keep a weather eye out. And I am not convinced Delta's Atlanta hub will be spared, either. Neither American nor Delta have been nimble in recent storms at CLT and ATL.

Bottom line: Starting tomorrow afternoon, begin to consider changes if your flying is to/through/from adjacent regions north of Florida. As for Florida travel itself--including American's huge hub at Miami--we'll have to continue to wait. Your outlook has improved if you're using airports on the Gulf Coast of Florida, but don't get cocky. Things can change quickly. And no matter what, local conditions will be difficult. More than half the gasoline stations in Florida are out of fuel.

      Air Canada has a travel waiver for five Florida airports through September 4. There is also a travel waiver for Nassau through September 2.
      Alaska Airlines has a travel waiver for three Florida airports and Charleston (CHS), South Carolina, through September 4.
      American has a travel waiver for 13 Florida airports until September 4.
      Delta has a travel waiver for 13 Florida airports and Brunswick (BQK) and Valdosta (VLD), Georgia, until September 4.
      JetBlue has a travel waiver for seven Florida airports through September 3. It has a travel waiver for Nassau through September 2.
      Silver Airways is suspending flights starting today at West Palm Beach (PBI). It will end flights tomorrow at Fort Lauderdale (FLL), Orlando (MCO) and Tampa (TPA).
      Southwest has a travel waiver for six Florida airports until September 5.
      United has a travel waiver for nine Florida airports and Nassau, Bahamas, for flights until September 6.
      WestJet has a travel advisory for four Florida airports and Nassau until September 3.

      Orlando International (MCO), Central Florida's primary airport, will close at 2am on Monday morning (September 2). reports that about 15 percent of Sunday's flights are now cancelled.
      Orlando/Melbourne (MLB) will close at 11:59 on Sunday evening (September 1).
      Orlando/Sanford (SFB) will close starting Sunday at 11:59pm.
      Daytona Beach Airport will close after the last flight on Sunday evening.
      Princess Juliana (SXM) on St. Maarten and Gustaf III (SBH) on Saint Barthélemy are showing heavy cancellations tomorrow, according to

      Amtrak cancelled its two trains into Florida (Silver Star/Silver Meteor) yesterday (August 30) and ended service at Jacksonville. All Florida service (including the Auto Train) is cancelled starting today.
      Brightline (Virgin Trains) ended service at noon today and its stations (West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami Central) are closed.
      Tri-Rail will operate as normal through Sunday. Future schedule to be determined.

8/31/19, 12:15PM ET, SATURDAY

Despite the confusion on where Hurricane Dorian will hit Florida there seems to be little doubt about the fate of the nearby Bahamas. The Bahamas are in real trouble, especially if the storm passes over at Category 4 strength. There will be catastrophic damage. Hurricane warnings are out for impact starting as early as tonight. Bahamasair will operate all flights into Florida through tonight's schedule. Sunday schedule and beyond is pending. Intra-Bahamas service is essentially ending today. Grand Bahama International (FPO) in Freeport closed at 10pm yesterday and will remain closed until Tuesday at 6 am. Nassau Airport/LPIA in Freeport is open today and expects to update on conditions at 3:30pm.

8/30/19, 12:30AM ET, FRIDAY

A worrisome thought: If Hurricane Dorian chooses to push up the center of Florida and into Georgia, that poses a major risk for Delta's Atlanta hub in the middle of next week. A dozen counties in southern Georgia already have declared a state of emergency. It all depends on the track Dorian will take and the weather pros and their models still are not clear. However, if you're planning to travel via Hartsfield later this week, perhaps rethink your itineraries as events become clearer over the weekend.

8/30/19, 11:30AM ET, FRIDAY

According to the 11am update from the National Weather Service, Hurricane Dorian is churning at 110 miles per hour. And it has slowed down, moving northwest at just 10 miles per hour. That raises the ugly specter of a multi-day event when it reaches Florida ... maybe Monday evening or early Tuesday. Pros are predicting a Category 4 storm with winds at 140 miles per hour. The "problem"--as if a Cat 4 storm isn't problem enough--is the track. The models and the experts can't yet predict exactly where it'll hit along the Florida Coast and whether it'll turn north along the Atlantic Coast, smash into Central Florida or move across Florida into the Gulf Coast.

All that uncertainty aside, however, this much is clear: This will be nasty, along the lines of a 140mph storm hitting Tuesday morning and still being a 75mph hurricane on Wednesday night. Everyone agrees this will come in hot, slow down and pound parts of Florida hard. Huge swathes of Florida are boarding up and there are already gasoline shortages in some areas.

Needless to say, if you're visiting Florida, get out now. Not Saturday or Sunday. Now. With a storm this intense, the airlines will get their aircraft out of the way sooner rather than later. As much as 18 inches of rain are predicted for parts of the state and the storm surge--which accounts for half of all deaths in a hurricane--is predicted to be substantial.

If you live in Florida, you know--or should know--your evacuation routes and emergency procedures. (Surf to for important details.) Don't fiddle around. Don't dawdle. Of course, the experts could be wrong and this'll be a nothing event. But do you want to risk it?

If you're in the Bahamas on holiday now, extra urgency is advised. There is now a Hurricane Watch for the Northern Bahamas.

8/29/19, 9PM ET, THURSDAY

Let's make this simple: If you're in Florida and scheduled to leave in the next few days, get out now instead. Why? The airlines may move their equipment out of Florida well before the storm hits. In fact, the more weather experts predict Hurricane Dorian could reach Category 3 or Category 4 when it hits Florida's Atlantic Coast, the earlier airlines will move their aircraft out of harm's way.

"This caught us by surprise," one airline executive told me this evening as the forecasts became more dire. "You don't gamble with the megastorms. You don't want planes on the ground with the winds hitting 100 miles per hour."

Although there are no hard or fast rules for when airlines abandon operations in front of a storm front, Saturday evening could be the last period of full flight schedules. With forecasting models literally all over the map and the calendar concerning Dorian's Florida arrival, don't be shocked if airlines act conservatively and pull flights sooner rather than later.

Translation: Get out while you can. The sun may come out tomorrow, but there's no guarantee the planes will be there when it happens.

8/29/19, 8PM ET, THURSDAY

The redirection of Hurricane Dorian toward Florida and its potential strength as a Category 4 Storm has had the airlines scrambling to update their travel waivers. They'd all assumed the storm was going to peter out after hitting several Caribbean destinations. But they are slowly catching up to the new weather realities and the possibility of a massive impact on Florida operations next week.

All of the major U.S. and Canadian carriers now have issued waivers for virtually all the airports they serve in Florida. Some also include Nassau in the Bahamas. But the effective dates are all over the place. Delta Air Lines and JetBlue Airways waivers, for example, have limited the affected travel dates to September 1 (Sunday) to September 4 (Wednesday). The United and American airlines travel waivers, on the other hand, are effective immediately through September 4. WestJet's waiver, in effect for immediate travel, expires on September 3.

Word to the wise: These waivers are likely to change as the weather geeks adjust their forecasts.

8/29/19, 1PM ET, THURSDAY

As summer collapses go, London's Heathrow Airport has held up better than in previous years. But here comes the boom. We think. British Airways' unhappy pilots are now threatening to strike on three days--September 9, 10 and 27. BA's anodyne Web site statement notwithstanding, the airline is already cancelling flights--and screwing up mightily. As the BBC reports, BA erroneously told customers flights were cancelled when they were not. When flyers tried to reach BA, they were stymied. Meanwhile, it looks like good old price-gouging is back. As Britain's sensationalistic Daily Mail lays out, carriers such as Virgin Atlantic and EasyJet are jacking up fares on BA routes on the strike days.

8/29/19, 12:30PM ET, THURSDAY

As American Airlines sinks to the bottom of the reliability charts for both on-time operations and cancellations, the carrier's management wants you to know it's sorry. It's not gonna fix anything, you understand, but it wants you to know that it's really sorry--and it's rushing to improve the quality of its apologies.

As Gary Leff at the View From The Wing blog explains, American is instructing employees on how to apologize better. That apparently includes learning how to fake sincerity while sincerely apologizing. Or as one AA group leader explains, AA employees should "listen with empathy" and make sure to issue a "heartfelt apology." It's right out of Kafka--or McCartney. Please stand by, Admiral Halsey will notify you soon. But, remember, AA hasn't done a bloody thing all day to make your travels better.

Well, not nothing. As CNBC credulously reports, American has been proactively calling customers and retroactively apologizing for screwups. American lards the sincere fake apologies with AAdvantage miles. "Certainly we've disappointed people," said Kerry Philipovitch, American's senior vice president of customer experience.

8/29/19, 9:45PM ET, THURSDAY

As we tracked this summer of delays and cancellations, my Twitter gallows humor has involved tomatoes and big pictures. Like: "Hey, the heat waves and the ridiculous thunderstorms may be miserable for flying, but they're great for my tomatoes back home. So, you know, big picture ..."

There are more than a few kernels--er, tomatoes--of truth to the joke. I've had a bumper crop at the vast, worldwide JoeSentMe headquarters in the Hudson Valley. So many that I've taken to roasting fully ripe tomatoes into a sauce to use them all. (Mister Meatball previously documented the amazing--and easy--roasted tomato sauce recipe, usually reserved for late-season fruit that didn't quite ripen before being harvested.) So between business trips and documenting this year's "summer of hell," I've been making lots of roasted-tomato sauce. And that led to pizza using the sauce. So, sure, it's been a lousy summer. But big picture? Interesting new pizza ...

8/28/19, 11:45PM ET, WEDNESDAY

The good news about Dorian, which has strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane? It dumped rain and wind over its Caribbean targets and disrupted flight schedules, but was easy on the region compared to the massive storms of recent summers. The bad news? It's sudden jog away from islands such as Puerto Rico put it on track for a Florida strike over the Labor Day weekend.

More on the potential Florida impact in the days ahead, but here's how the rains (and fears) about Dorian hit the Caribbean's flights yesterday. Half of San Juan's schedule was cancelled. The U.S. Virgin Islands got more winds and rain than expected due to Dorian's late directional shift and that meant about 60 percent of St. Thomas flights and 75 percent of flights to and from St. Croix were dumped. The British Virgin Islands were also disrupted and more than half the flights at Tortola were cancelled.

8/27/19, 6:45PM ET, TUESDAY

Tropical Storm Dorian is churning its way to Puerto Rico and several other Caribbean destinations and the airlines are out with travel waivers. They vary wildly. Here's what we know.

AMERICAN AIRLINES has a waiver valid if you were planning to travel before August 29 to the following destinations: San Juan (SJU), Puerto Rico; Bridgetown, Barbados (BGI); Cap Haitien (CAP) and Port Au Prince (PAP), Haiti; St. Lucia (UVF); Fort de France, Martinique (FDF); and Puerto Plata (POP), Punta Cana, Santiago (STI) and Santo Domingo (SDQ) in the Dominican Republic.

AIR CANADA has weather alerts--if not actual waivers--for travel the next few days to Bridgetown; Punta Cana and Puerto Plata. Air Canada seems to be the most fluid in policy, for good and bad.

DELTA AIR LINES has a two-tier waiver. Through August 29, it covers Punta Cana, Port Au Prince, San Juan, Santo Domingo and St. Lucia. For August 30 and 31, it covers travel to Georgetown (GCT), Marsh Harbour (MHH) and Nassau (NAS) in the Bahamas; and Providenciales (PLS) in Turks & Caicos.

JETBLUE AIRWAYS, the largest carrier into Puerto Rico, is allowing changes on flights through August 29 for Aguadilla (BQN), Ponce (PSE), San Juan and Santiago, Puerto Rico; La Romana (LRM), Puerto Plata, Punta Cana and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

SOUTHWEST AIRLINES has a two-tier travel waiver. Through August 30, travel can be changed on flights to Providenciales, Punta Cana and San Juan.

UNITED AIRLINES has the skimpiest waiver, with changes permitted only tomorrow and August 29 to Aguadilla, Punta Cana and San Juan.

According to the 5pm ET advisory from the U.S. Hurricane Center ( Dorian has maximum sustained winds of 50 miles per hour. Relatively compact compared to some giants of recent years, the storm is expected to reach Puerto Rico tomorrow and Hispaniola (Haiti/Dominican Republic) tomorrow evening. Then it is expected to reach the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos on Thursday night and Friday.

8/23/19, 11:45AM ET, FRIDAY

And it looks like we are on for the annual London/Heathrow and British Airways summer meltdown. Months of talks between BA and its pilots union have been unsuccessful and the pilots have now given the required 14-day advance notice of strikes. Pilots have just announced that they will strike on three September days: September 9, 10 and 27. Now the real negotiations begin. BA, as usual, is spitting fire and claiming the pilots are being greedy and selfish by demanding anything other than what BA wants to offer. And the pilots, who have the power to essentially shut down the carrier, are trying to maximize their leverage. Stay tuned.

8/23/19, 8AM ET, FRIDAY

The mainstream media and even some should-know-better observers have bought the line that Delta Air Lines operates better on a day-to-day basis than its competitors. And Delta, of course, continually beats the drum and its corporate chest, pointing to its comparatively fewer cancellations. But it's an open secret that Delta manipulates the numbers by refusing to cancel flights that should be cancelled for mechanical or other reasons. Delta's tactics lead to a cascade of problems for travelers, many of which fly under the proverbial radar and never get reported.

But the saga of Delta Flight 975 on Wednesday afternoon (and Wednesday evening and Wednesday night and Thursday morning) may finally burst Delta's narrative. Everything that Delta did with Flight 975 props up its image of operational superiority at the expense of its customers.

As you can already read at BusinessInsider, in a similar piece at and at, Delta 975 turned into a marathon non-flight from hell. A scheduled 3:30pm Wednesday departure from New York/JFK didn't actually depart for LAX until Thursday morning at about 9:30am. The 18-hour delay came complete with several boardings, tarmac holds, mechanical delays, crewmembers timing out and weather issues. Along the way, Delta refused to provide dinner as the afternoon flight turned into an evening-long nightmare. When Delta finally abandoned the departure for the night at about 1am on Thursday morning, passengers were dumped back into the terminal and told they would not receive vouchers for hotel rooms. And as captured by a video posted to social media, a Delta agent is caught telling disgruntled flyers that, sure, they could cancel their flight and get their baggage back, but that, too, would require long and unspecified delays. With few options and no help from Delta, most of the travelers ended up sprawled on the terminal floor awaiting the rescheduled departure about eight hours later.

So far, Delta has issued only the most cursory of apologies. But as the media pressure surrounding the incident grows--several B-list celebrities were among the 200 or so passengers, so the sound bites will come fast and furiously--watch for Delta to be more fulsome in its contrition and, of course, offer more tangible recompense. And it will also stress how out of character this incident was. Worst, however, is how this will show up in the government statistics: as one single delay. The flight was never cancelled, thus sparing Delta a cancellation black mark. And apparently, the tarmac holds didn't extend past the 3-hour limit because Delta returned the aircraft to the gate. So there'll be no black mark there, either.

Sadly, this is how Delta makes its reputational bones. It runs roughshod over passengers, fiddles the numbers and hopes commentators are too stupid or too lazy to look beyond the surface.

8/23/19, 7AM ET, FRIDAY

Just think! Fifty years ago, we were celebrating the summer of love and marveling at the crowds in the Woodstock mud. Now we're cooling our heels at airports waiting for the inevitable cancellation. After Sunday's bloody performance (see below), life on the road wasn't too bad on Monday. But Tuesday went right back into the tank. There were around 4,500 delays and about 1,000 cancellations nationwide. The worst-hit airports? Chicago/O'Hare, Washington/National, New York/LaGuardia, Charlotte/Douglas and Newark. Travelers with the worst luck? Anyone with an itinerary on United Express commuter Air Wisconsin, which hubs at O'Hare. It cancelled more than one of five flights on Tuesday. Wednesday was hardly better. Although there were fewer cancellations, there were many more delays (nearly 6,400 nationwide). Some of the same airports--Newark, LaGuardia, O'Hare--were whacked. Also uber-delayed on Wednesday: Boston/Logan and New York/Kennedy. Another United Express carrier, CommutAir, led Wednesday's cancellation pack, dumping more than 15 percent of its schedule. Thursday broke bad late, with evening storms contributing to about 6,400 more cancellations. About a third of flights at Charlotte and Newark ran late. At Denver and LGA, it was about 30 percent. About 20 percent of flights ran off-schedule at Toronto/Pearson, Philadelphia, New York/Kennedy, the three Washington-area airports and San Francisco.

8/22/19, 10AM ET, THURSDAY

Is Hong Kong on track for a Brain Drain Redux? Perhaps. Australian real estate and immigration experts say there's been a surge of interest from Hongkongers hoping to emigrate to the Land Down Under. "I would say it is at least 40 to 50 per cent more" inquiries about leaving Hong Kong, one real estate magnate told The Australian newspaper. Immigration to Taiwan is also picking up. Meanwhile, the New South Wales migration department "has noticed a significant increase in applications," according to the South China Morning Post. "Anybody who can make an alternate plan is trying to do so," one Sydney lawyer said. It reminds some long-term Hong Kong watchers of the "brain drain" that hit the then-Crown Colony of Hong Kong before China reclaimed the city from Britain in 1997.

8/21/19, 8PM ET, WEDNESDAY

While protests in recent days have moved away from Hong Kong International Airport, democracy demonstrators continue to mass in streets and parks and are outwitting local police and the mainland authorities in China. But the economy is surely taking a hit. Bloomberg reports Hong Kong stocks have lost US$600 billion in value since June, when protests began in earnest over a mainland extradition bill. The economic slump is also directly affecting Hong Kong's normally vibrant lodging market. As room occupancy slumps, hotel owners are forcing employees to take unpaid leave. Because, of course, there are virtually no worker protection laws or regulations in Hong Kong.

8/20/19, 9AM ET, TUESDAY

China's ousting of Cathay Pacific's two top executives and the firing of several line employees is just the tip of a very ugly political iceberg. Reuters reports a "white terror" has gripped Hong Kong's flag carrier. (White terror is a local colloquialism for a China-created climate of fear.) "There is a 'white terror' in our company," one crew member at Cathay’s regional subsidiary, Cathay Dragon, told Reuters. "We feel really scared to talk political stuff, even for chit-chat." Reuters also reports that some Hong Kong firms with Chinese state-owned parents have advised employees to avoid flying Cathay Pacific.

8/19/19, 9AM ET, MONDAY

In this endless summer of despair, Sunday will go down as one of the markers of road woe. Fast-moving thunderstorms from Chicago to the East Coast led to a nearly endless series of delays and cancellations. Nationwide, about 6,900 flights were delayed--that's snowstorm-level disruption--and more than 1,400 flights were cancelled. At Chicago/O'Hare, for example, morning storms led to 20 percent of the flights dumped and 40 percent more delayed. At Newark, it was 15 percent (cancelled) and 30 percent (delays). And at New York/LaGuardia, 17 percent of the flights were dumped.

8/16/19, 9PM ET, FRIDAY

CBP computers are back online after an afternoon of crawling customs lines and hours-long waits at international arrivals gateways nationwide.

As far as we can tell, the computers failed about 3:30 pm ET and overwhelmed CBP front-line agents were forced to manually process travelers. Global Entry kiosks and other automated alternatives also failed, throwing all arriving passengers--U.S. citizens, Global Entry customers, flight crews and overseas visitors--into one gigantic queue. Multi-hour waits were common and one flyer arriving at Washington's Dulles Airport from London/Heathrow told the BBC that it took him five hours to clear.

One JoeSentMe member arrived in Philadelphia from Venice on American Airlines about 4 pm, just after the computers went down. "Global Entry was not working. Nothing was working," he told me in an E-mail. "We waited around a hour before they started to take GE folks. Then it was another 30 minutes because the Customs person could not swipe our passports. He had to enter all the info manually. I would estimate that there were maybe 400 people [waiting in the general lines] and they will be there three to four hours."

Another JoeSentMe member arrived in Miami about 4 pm from London. "No Global Entry," she said via E-mail. The customs agents "spent about 15 minutes per person 'talking' to passengers. They kept trying to get scanners to read."

8/16/19, 5PM ET, FRIDAY

CBP computers at airports nationwide have either crashed completely or, more likely, been hit with a serious systems slowdown. What's it mean? Long lines to clear customs after arriving on international flights.

I've confirmed that the lines are already very long at several international arrivals airports--JFK, LAX, DFW, Newark, Washington/Dulles, Seattle-Tacoma--and, I assume, at all airports with international arrivals facilities.

At the moment, I can't confirm that the outage--or slowdown or whatever--has affected Global Entry kiosks, too. However, I'm not getting any reports that they're working, either. But if they have, welp ...

If you're waiting now, hunker down. If you are in-flight now and will be landing soon, be prepared. If you haven't yet departed, good luck and let's hope it's cleared up shortly.

Silver lining? Comparatively fewer business travelers would be arriving home today since this is the heart of the summer holiday season. Dark cloud? Lots more leisure travelers--less experienced, quicker to panic, less flexible leisure travelers--will be stewing in the lines.

8/16/19, 11AM ET, FRIDAY

China this morning forced out the two top executives of Cathay Pacific Airways. The "crime" that led to their "resignations?" Not being sufficiently obsequious to China's will during this week's disturbances at Hong Kong International Airport. This even after Cathay's chief executive, Rupert Hogg, issued a distastefully servile statement, the parent company Swire Pacific issued its own groveling comments and the supposedly independent Hong Kong-based airline fired four employees for daring to protest against Chinese interference in local affairs. The lesson? An on-again, off-again tariff war isn't nearly the proper (or sufficient) weapon against China. The rulers on the mainland want control of everything--the publicity, the images released to the world, the streets, the politics, the rules--and, of course, your firm's intellectual property and your company itself.

8/15/19, 2PM ET, THURSDAY

No, you're not crazy. Traveling in June was as difficult, time-consuming and annoying as you thought.

According to the DOT Air Travel Consumer Report released today, on-time performance plummeted in June. The industry-wide domestic on-time rate was just 73.31 percent, down more than three points from last June (76.39%). It was also down more than four points from the 77.41 percent on-time rate of the industry during the first six months of the year. Cancellations spiked, too, up to 2.11 percent of domestic flights compared to 1.81 percent last June. Worst airport in the nation for on-time operations? Newark, where just 58 percent of flights landed on-time.

Long tarmac holds--three hours or more on domestic flights, four hours on international ones--spiked in June. There were 50 incidents during the month. More than half--28--occurred at Dallas/Fort Worth on June 9. (June 9 was notably stormy in the Dallas Metroplex.) The longest domestic hold was also on June 9. American Airlines Flight 2357 arriving at DFW from Salt Lake City was held for three hours and 55 minutes. The longest international hold occurred the next day. El Al Flight 7 was traveling from Tel Aviv to New York/Kennedy, but diverted to Stewart/Newburgh in New York's Hudson Valley. It spent five hours and 57 minutes on the tarmac there.

America's worst flight in June? JetBlue Airways Flight 1371 from New York/LGA to Fort Lauderdale. It was cancelled or arrived at least 30 minutes late 86.7 percent of the time. Average delay: 77 minutes.

8/14/19, 8PM ET, WEDNESDAY

Hong Kong airport authorities say 979 flights have been cancelled since last Friday, August 9. Of that number, the airport says 421 of them were on Tuesday, Hong Kong time. Meanwhile, a Hong Kong legislator who specializes in tourism says he expects a 50 percent decline in hotel revenue in August. Yiu Si-wing also told Bloomberg News that he expects hotel occupancy to fall by a third in August. Hong Kong hotels usually rack up occupancy in the 90 percent range.

8/14/19, 7PM ET, WEDNESDAY

As service at Hong Kong International Airport returned to "normal"--or a bit like "normal"--the rhetorical battle continues. And the commentary is exactly as you'd expect it to be. The canny democracy protestors humbly apologized to any travelers who were inconvenienced or hassled during demonstrations at the airport over the last few days. But China and its vassals in Hong Kong ramped up the outrage. One sample: "The radical protesters have totally breached the bottom line of the law, morals and humanity," said Xu Luying, a Chinese government spokeswoman. "Their behaviour was in extreme contempt for laws, and they have seriously tarnished Hong Kong’s international image." Of course, no one in Hong Kong government had anything to say about the city's police officers who attacked unarmed demonstrators Tuesday night local time with shields, batons and pepper spray.

8/13/19, 8:30PM ET, TUESDAY

Here's some good news in a sea of miserable on-the-road dispatches: The planned strike at London's Heathrow Airport on August 22-23 is off. The airport posted the news on its Web site today. So all we have to worry about is a possible strike of British Airways pilots. But that action would have to be announced 14 days in advance.


The South China Morning Post, Hong Kong's primary English-language journal, is lucky to have Danny Lee, a hard-working aviation reporter. He's spent days helping us all better understand the situation at Hong Kong International Airport. But the bosses of the SCMP clearly must have gotten the word that Chinese authorities aren't enamored of truth. So the paper is suddenly running straight-up bullshit masquerading as journalism.

Just before midnight Wednesday morning Hong Kong time, for example, it published a no-byline piece that makes an astonishing claim: that protesters "brought unprecedented violence" to the airport. You know, the unarmed protesters who were attacked by Hong Kong police brandishing pepper spray, guns, shields and batons. The late-night Tuesday local time assault by police was allegedly to protect a man that protesters captured and bound on suspicion he was spying for the mainland government. The cops charged the unarmed protesters with their weapons--we were able to watch since news networks around the world aired events live--and battered and scattered demonstrators. That somehow becomes, in the SCMP coverage, "unprecedented violence" perpetrated by protesters.

Then on Wednesday morning Hong Kong time, the SCMP posted a bizarre piece claiming that experts think Hong Kong airport's woes could make Shenzhen Airport the Pearl River Delta's most important airport. (Shenzhen is just over the China-Hong Kong border.) The SCMP's experts? A China-based securities firm and a professor at a university in China. This astonishingly sloppy and painfully obvious piece carries four bylines, not one a reporter whose archives reveal any previous reporting on airlines or airports.

8/13/19, 6PM ET, TUESDAY

As democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong turned their attention to the airport, Chinese government officials turned up the heat on Cathay Pacific, the city's flag carrier. Last weekend, it ordered Cathay to submit in advance the names of flight crews scheduled to work flights to the Chinese mainland. Cathay complied. Then on Monday the airline's chief executive, Rupert Hogg, E-mailed staff and threatened to fire anyone protesting or engaged in "illegal activity." Again, pro forma compliance since the carrier needs to stay on the right side of Chinese regulators. The airline, still majority owned by Swire, an old-line Hong Kong trading house, wouldn't survive long if China took after it.

But today Swire took what looks like an even harder slide down the slippery slope of servile complicity. It issued a press release that is downright creepy. "Swire Pacific is deeply concerned by the ongoing violence and disruption impacting Hong Kong," it said. "We resolutely support the Hong Kong SAR Government, the Chief Executive and the Police in their efforts to restore law and order. We condemn all illegal activities and violent behaviour."


Protesters returned en masse to Hong Kong International airport in the afternoon local time and swamped departure terminals. That led airport officials to suspend flights for a second day. Although incoming flights--at least those already en route--were still arriving, airport officials shut down terminals around 5pm local time and cancelled all remaining departures for the day.

Protesters cheered when airport authorities announced the closure in the terminals and yelled, "Stand with Hong Kong!"

This is an interesting gambit by the democracy protestors, who have been playing a high-stakes cat-and-mouse game with Hong Kong authorities and the Chinese mainland officials. Returning to the airport in great numbers for a second consecutive day--a change of tactics after 10 weeks of hit-and-run disruptions--clearly caught the authorities off guard again. As I explained last night, the airport had reopened and was operating with heavy delays and cancellations.

Where we go from here is anyone's guess. Chinese state media has made sure to alert media--local and Western--to forces massed just over the China border in Shenzhen. And today, unlike Monday, travelers pushed back against demonstrators blocking them from flights. The photo of a woman in a red T-shirt with a piece of red luggage held over her head as she tries to navigate a sea of protesters blocking her way is likely to become an iconic image of this struggle.

On the other hand, anecdotal reports on social media say protesters have been handing out bottles of water and cans of beer (San Miguel, to be precise) to travelers as a gesture of good will.


An update on the situation at Hong Kong International Airport. In short: Demonstrations have ended, but flight snarls continue.

As expected, the airport reopened at 6am Tuesday local time. There have been no demonstrations, but the South China Morning Post reports that more than 300 takeoff and landings for Tuesday are cancelled. That's not a surprise because many flights and crews will be out of position after the airport's abrupt cancellation yesterday afternoon local time.

However slowly, some airlines are now reacting to the airport situation and the overall uncertainly in Hong Kong, where opposition to the local government and its mainland China overloads has entered its tenth week.

Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong's flag carrier, is urging customers to "postpone non-essential travel from Hong Kong" through Wednesday, August 14. American Airlines, Cathay's Oneworld Alliance partner, has issued a travel waiver valid through August 15. United Airlines, the largest U.S. carrier to Hong Kong, has matched American. Air Canada has a travel waiver valid through today.

On Monday, according to, 460 takeoffs and landings were cancelled at Hong Kong International. A third of Cathay Pacific's flights were cancelled. Its regional affiliate, Cathay Dragon, cancelled more than half of its flights. A third of the flights operated by Hong Kong Airlines were dropped after the airport closure.

Meanwhile, Chinese authorities ramped up the rhetorical pressure after the airport closure, claiming that the demonstrators exhibited "signs of terrorism." Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam, who is increasingly seen as a mainland puppet, called the demonstrations "riot activities."

China is also pressuring airlines. Over the weekend, Cathay Pacific was ordered not to allow staff who demonstrated to work flights to the mainland. But Cathay chief executive Rupert Hogg went further on Monday, writing in a memo that the carrier had "zero tolerance approach to illegal activities." According to an Associated Press report, he wrote that "There will be disciplinary consequences for employees who support or participate in illegal protests. These consequences could be serious and may include termination of employment."

And Hong Kong Airlines, which is owned by the troubled mainland Chinese conglomerate HNA, took an advertisement in local papers decrying the unrest and blaming protesters for problems. This line, of course, perfectly echoes the Chinese government line.

8/12/19, 8:30AM ET, MONDAY/8:30PM HONG KONG TIME

Hong Kong International Airport is closed until at least 6am Tuesday local time (6pm Monday ET). The airport was abruptly closed by Hong Kong authorities around 4pm Monday local time (4am Monday ET) when several hundred to several thousand democracy protestors clogged the airport terminals, roadways and parking areas. At least 180 scheduled departures were cancelled although some flights en route have continued to arrive. Airport authorities ordered all passengers--and, ostensibly, protesters--to "leave immediately."

In case you haven't been paying attention, this is a latest of 10 weekends of protests in the city as Hong Kong residents resist China's growing involvement in local affairs. The protests erupted in June after China rammed through--then stopped--a bill that would have allowed the mainland government to snatch Hong Kong residents and try them in China under Chinese law. Although Chinese authorities--including the city's compliant chief executive--claim the extradition bill "is dead," it has never officially been withdrawn. In recent weeks, the protests have widened to include demands for fairer and more inclusive elections and the release of protestors arrested in recent weeks.

As far as the airport is concerned, crowds have now thinned out in the evening hours and the airport authorities have set 6am Tuesday (6pm Monday ET) for a resumption of flight operations. Make no mistake, this was a government decision to close the airport, not any concerted action by the airlines.

No airline serving Hong Kong to/from the United States and Canada has issued flight/travel waivers for the days ahead. However, I did speak this morning to a JoeSentMe member who says she convinced United to reschedule her Newark-Hong Kong flight to next week without change fee or price change. She was originally scheduled to fly on Wednesday. So if you're due to travel to Hong Kong in the days ahead and want to change, call your airline and argue your case. I would not expect a cancellation or refund would be allowed, but a date change is surely possible.

The U.S. State Department has issued a travel warning for Hong Kong. Issued on Wednesday (August 7), the Level 2 advisory does not explicitly warn against Hong Kong travel, but it is notable. Canadian officials updated its Hong Kong statement at 7:34am ET today and urges a "high degree of caution," but also does not explicitly warn against travel.

What comes next? Unknown. Protesters have been canny so far in outwitting the Chinese government and its Hong Kong puppets--and I use the word advisedly--during the strikes and demonstrations. It has left Chinese and local authorities flat-footed and looking clumsy. However, China has never exactly been afraid of using force or exerting other types of coercion and has never permitted demonstrations (peaceful or otherwise) for long. But China, especially, can't afford to be seen in 2019 as publicly and obviously oppressive and its economy is shaky as it fights the trade war with the United States. So it is impossible to logically predict the state's actions in the days ahead.

China has ostentatiously released video of the military massing on the Hong Kong border and "preparing" to clear "rioters." Still, a full-scale military intervention would remind the world of Chinese oppression, something Chinese officials are desperate to avoid in the current political climate locally in Southeast Asia and internationally. Also notable: Chinese bots have revved up activity on social media in recent hours, always slyly (and sometimes not-so-slyly) trying to slime protesters as "rioters" or "agitators" or whatever. That's right out of the Stalinist/Mao era playbook save for the new means of dissemination.

Needless to say, avoid Hong Kong travel in the days ahead unless it is absolutely vital or you are an experienced Hong Kong visitor. Even then, discretion is the better part of valor. We're in uncharted waters here.

8/9/19, 11:30AM ET, FRIDAY

In Hong Kong, hundreds of protesters have clogged the departure terminals of Hong Kong Airport. The demonstrations are part of the 10-week-long action against China's increasing involvement in Hong Kong affairs. The protests are expected to continue through the weekend. The Chinese government responded today by ordering Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong's flag carrier, to submit names of flight crews in advance because CX staffers involved in protests will not be allowed into the country. This kind of mindless harassment is what China is reduced to because it seems at a loss when dealing with ground-up protests against it. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department has now issued a Travel Warning for Hong Kong.

8/8/19, 8PM ET, THURSDAY

I've lost track of how many "summers of hell" we've lived through in the last 20 years or so, but 2019 is shaping up to be, if not hell, a summer of real discontent. And I did warn you. Twice, in fact.

Consider the last few days. On Monday, 150 flights--some intra-Asia, some transpacific--were dumped at Hong Kong International because the rolling protests in the city moved to the airport. (And heads up, protesters say they'll target HKIA again this weekend.) Across the globe at London/Heathrow, ground workers called off two days of job actions earlier this week, but heaven forfend British Airways not mess up the summer. A "technical fault"--that's what BA called it--in its computers yesterday meant that more than 55 percent of BA flights worldwide were delayed and about 15 percent more were cancelled. (And another heads up: Ground workers may still strike at Heathrow on August 22-23.)

Meanwhile, thunderstorms along the East Coast yesterday destroyed schedules. About 30 percent of flights at Newark were cancelled. About 25 percent were dumped at New York/LGA. At JFK, about 15 percent of flights were cancelled but many more (about 35 percent) were delayed. Fifteen percent of flights at Philadelphia were scrubbed and about 10 percent of the flights at Washington's three airports (BWI, Dulles and National) never departed. Nationwide, about 7,000 flights were delayed yesterday and about 1,800 were cancelled.

Looking for a silver lining? Um, well, uh, er, lemme see. Two more weeks until traffic begins to thin out? Sorry, that's all I got.

8/5/19, 6PM ET, MONDAY

The union representing ground workers at London/Heathrow have called off the second day of its planned work stoppage this week. It was due tomorrow. It follows the cancellation of today's strike. Both sides are still talking.

8/4/19, 9:15PM ET, SUNDAY

Good news (sort of): Workers at London's Heathrow Airport have called off their planned strike on Monday. It was due to start at 12:01am Monday Local Time. However, the strike scheduled for Tuesday is still on, at least at the moment. Plan accordingly. Airlines from Air Canada to Virgin Atlantic have made varying plans in preparation for the strike. Check carefully with your carrier for current plans. They are literally making it up as conditions warrant. For example, British Airways has "uncancelled" some flights it had proactively cancelled in preparation for Monday's strike.


Bad news: The nine-week-long and unprecedented public Hong Kong uprising against the Chinese interference in the city's legal system has grown. The Monday workday has just begun and it remains to be seen how calls for a city-wide general strike will be heeded. But it is already affecting Hong Kong International Airport. Many air traffic controllers have joined the strike and the airport authority says it will reduce the facility to single-runway operation. (HKIA has two runways.) About 1,500 flights--many of them intercontinental--were scheduled for Monday and several hundred will surely be cancelled.

Cathay Pacific, the largest carrier at the airport, is already changing its schedule for Monday and Tuesday. If you are flying with a U.S. or Canadian carrier to Hong Kong, check with them because the situation could change quickly.

Moreover, the Hong Kong situation is citywide. There are expected to be civil disruptions in many neighborhoods and the Chinese government has made veiled threats to use the military. Hong Kong's police have also been extremely aggressive in recent days. Regardless of how you may feel about Hong Kong's attempts to keep its system independent from China, be cautious about travel to the city in the days ahead. If you are already in Hong Kong, exercise extreme caution everywhere.

8/2/19, 5:30PM ET, FRIDAY

We're about to enter the annual summer meltdown at London/Heathrow airport. So buckle up because things will get weird.

The union representing thousands of Heathrow ground workers rejected a contract Friday evening (London time), which heightens the chance of a strike starting just after midnight Sunday night. (That would be 12:01am Monday, London time). If that happens, expect massive disruption, total chaos and blinkered denials by Heathrow officials and British Airways, the 800-pound gorilla at the airport.

Heathrow, of course, collapses virtually every summer, so this shouldn't come as a surprise. Nor should the idiotic "we got this" rhetoric from Heathrow Airport. My favorite part of Heathrow's statement? Its claim that "you may notice that the airport is busier than usual ... because we have trained hundreds of additional colleagues to help on strike days across the airport." Yeah, that's why Heathrow will be a mess next week. Because of all the additional worker bees that Heathrow is deploying ...

Anyway, if your plans include Heathrow next week, here is what the major airline players are saying.

British Airways is already cancelling and combining some flights and warns that some of its security checkpoints will be closed. It also seems ready to restrict carry-on baggage. Virgin Atlantic says it may reroute some London flights away from Heathrow. London operations may move to Gatwick Airport, which would not be affected by a strike. Delta Air Lines and American Airlines have issued a travel waiver if you're flying to or from Heathrow on August 5 or 6. United Airlines and Air Canada have issued a travel waiver if you're flying to or from Heathrow on August 4, 5 or 6.

Any good news? The two sides are still talking, with the aid of a British mediation service. And a strike last month was avoided, so, you know, thoughts and prayers ...

7/26/19, 11:30AM ET, FRIDAY

If you read yesterday's Brancatelli File, I ruminated on the brutality of the first month of summer travel. But that was yesterday. So far today, air traffic control has melted down at London's airports, there's been a weather-related mess at Paris' Gare du Nord station and Barcelona Airport is set for a weekend strike. Enjoy your summer on the road ...

7/25/19, 8PM ET, THURSDAY

I suggested last month that we were in for a cruel, cruel summer on the road. I was wrong. I admit it. It's been worse than even I thought. Here are some further thoughts on how to navigate a travel landscape pockmarked with massive cancellations, endless delays and all sorts of other summer stupidities. Read the entire column here.

7/19/19, 11:15AM ET, FRIDAY

If you were unlucky enough to have been traveling to, from or through Chicago/O'Hare yesterday, my great sympathies. A quarter of the flights were cancelled as both American and United dumped them in bunches. Newark, Boston and Philadelphia weren't great, either, but many fewer cancellations there than at O'Hare. Of course, there was good news: We needed the rain, if not at yesterday rush hour. But, still ...

7/18/19, 8:15PM ET, THURSDAY

Mass demonstrations against the Chinese government's interference in Hong Kong's legal system--and the global publicity those disruptions generated--is taking a toll on the city's tourism. Occupancy rates at the city's hotels fell 20 percent in June compared to June, 2018. Hoteliers expect July's occupancy rates to be off by 40 percent compared to 2018.

7/13/19, 5:45PM ET, SATURDAY

Barry made landfall earlier today as a Category 1 Hurricane. All flights are cancelled at New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana's major airports. Flights through Sunday morning are likely to be dumped, too, although several airlines tell me conditions at MSY might allow isolated operations earlier. About half the flights at Gulfport/Biloxi, Mississippi, have been cancelled.

Good news? While levees have overtopped in several Louisiana parishes, it does look like New Orleans is not bearing the brunt of this storm. Forecasts, which predicted as much as 25 inches of rain in parts of the region, have been revised downward. Current predictions now suggest a maximum of 13 inches and single-digit amounts in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

Avoid the region if you can, however. Even with less rain than initially expected, it'll take several days to put this right. There have been road closures due to this storm and flooding in Mobile, Alabama.

7/12/19, 11AM ET, FRIDAY

Worrisome news out of the Gulf Coast: Tropical Storm Barry is heading toward New Orleans and Louisiana. With the Mississippi already swollen and this storm promising to be a huge rainmaker, it isn't hard to imagine The Big Easy under water again come Saturday, when Barry is currently due to make landfall. Full details are at the Hurricane Center of the National Weather Service. It goes without saying that you should avoid the Mississippi Delta this weekend. But keep an eye on flights if you're due to transit Atlanta/Hartsfield. Despite its claims of rock-solid reliability to the contrary, Delta Air Lines has a poor record when it comes to operating well during heavy rains.

7/1/19, 11:30AM ET, MONDAY/11:30PM HONG KONG TIME

Protestors are battling the Mainland China-backed Hong Kong Government over an unprecedented cut in the city's freedoms.

First, the immediate events: Demonstrators have broken into the Legislative Council Building, located near Harcourt Road on Hong Kong Island. The so-called LegCo complex is where the Hong Kong legislature sits. Without opposition from police, they smashed past barriers, entered the building and are now occupying the chamber where the legislature sits. (The legislature has not been in session.) However, the police now say they will clear the premises if the protestors do not immediately vacate the building. Elsewhere in Hong Kong, there are many other peaceful protests and marches, many of which have been broken up by police using pepper spray and other means.

Today specifically matters, by the way. July 1 is the 22nd anniversary of the 1997 Handover of the former British Crown Colony to China. At the time, of course, China pledged a "one country, two systems" plan whereby Hong Kong would retain freedoms that existed under the British. It was supposed to last for 50 years. Over the last two decades, however, China has eroded many of those rights. In recent weeks, it also tried to promulgate a bill that allowed the mainland authorities to extradite Hong Kong residents for trials in China, under the Chinese system.

Demonstrations against that bill broke out and, shockingly, the Chinese mainland authorities backed down--at least temporarily--by suspending consideration of the new bill. The city's Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, seen by virtually everyone as a tool of the mainland authorities, has since been mum. Demonstrators rejected the temporary nature of the withdrawal, demanding the law be scrapped completely and permanently.

When both mainland China and the Hong Kong Government remained mum, demonstrations broke out again over last weekend and culminated in the takeover today of the LegCo building.

If you are in Hong Kong or headed there, avoid the LegCo area of Central Hong Kong and be very cautious in public places elsewhere in the city. We are in uncharted territory. China had never relented on a law before, protestors had never continued to resist before and they never before successfully breached a building that the government considered inviolate. Moreover, the demonstrators don't seem to have an organized, central leadership--and the Chinese and Hong Kong governments don't seem sure of their next steps.

6/27/19, 7PM ET, THURSDAY

As I warned last week, we're in for a cruel, cruel summer--and late spring hasn't been a breeze, either. According to statistics compiled by, the last 30 days have been brutal. The biggest losers of all? American Airlines and its woebegone passengers. Although the numbers are unofficial and incomplete, there's no doubt American operations are dreadful and they're deteriorating rapidly. American and its wholly owned American Eagle subsidiaries (Envoy, PSA and Piedmont) cancelled approximately 7,200 flights. That's six times the number of cancellations recorded at Delta Air Lines and its wholly owned Endeavor Air commuter carrier and more than three times the cancellations racked up by United Airlines and its commuter network (ExpressJet, CommutAir, Trans States and Air Wisconsin). American and its commuters suffered more than 41,000 delays, too, many more than the 29,000 at United and 27,000 at Delta. Southwest Airlines was no picnic in the last 30 days, either, since the carrier dumped about 3,500 flights and cancelled 31,000 more. Although final numbers will vary for American, United and Delta when multi-carrier commuters' numbers are applied to the proper parent, it is clear that American is the must-avoid carrier of the summer.

6/20/19, 8PM ET, THURSDAY

Summer's here and the time may be right for Dancing in the Street. But summer flying? Ignore Martha Reeves and listen to Bananarama or Ace of Base. It's gonna be a cruel, cruel summer. A nasty confluence of factors--plane shortages, labor disputes, record traffic and deteriorating airline operations--will make for a troubling summer in the skies. Here are some tips for avoiding the worst snafus. Read the entire column here.