December 1, 2023

On the Road: After Irene, Logistics Snarl Airlines’ Efforts to Rebook Passengers

The airlines canceled more than 10,000 flights over the weekend at the height of the storm and canceled at least 2,000 more on Monday as they struggled to return to normal. Their immediate concern was getting their aircraft and flight crews back into position. But the larger issue was the unforgiving arithmetic of modern air travel — most airplanes are flying nearly full, with little room to accommodate hundreds of thousands of turned away passengers, especially at a peak travel period like the week leading into Labor Day weekend.

The result was scenes like the one on Monday at Terminal 4 at Kennedy International Airport in New York, where suitcases were piled like barricades against walls, lines stretched out the doors and every available seat was claimed.

In the midst of it all were two young Ukrainian women, Olya Ponomarova, 21, and Julia Baran, 23, who had spent the summer working in the laundry room of a New York camp and were originally scheduled to fly home on Saturday and still do not know when they will get out. “We didn’t have any money on us, and now we’re stuck for three days already,” Ms. Ponomarova said. “We took showers in the bathroom sink.”

The disruptions rippled out from the Northeast. In Los Angeles, Jonathan Strauss, 46, a lawyer, said he had finished up a vacation with his wife and two children, and tried to head back to New York on Saturday night but their flight was canceled.

He tried again on Sunday, and was back again on Monday. He is now hoping to get home by Thursday.

“They wouldn’t pick up the phones,” Mr. Strauss said. “So yesterday afternoon I came to the airport for the first time, and there was a four-hour wait just to speak to anyone. So I said, you know what, let me go back and enjoy the great California weather. I went back, enjoyed myself, had a few margaritas, and came back again now to try to rebook.”

Late last week, while passengers all over the country with tickets in hand for weekend trips watched ominous reports of the approaching hurricane, most airlines had not yet decided whether to impose pre-emptive flight cancellations. With the exception of JetBlue, which announced 900 flight cancellations early Friday, major airlines held off scrubbing large numbers of flights until the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey ordered the New York area airports closed starting on Saturday.

“I think airlines played chicken with this hurricane,” said Joe Brancatelli, who publishes a subscription Web site for business travelers,

On the other hand, airline operations managers were in a difficult position. Airlines worry far more about wind or ice than rain, even torrential rain. So when they saw that the hurricane winds had diminished on Friday, they had reason to wait.

“I think a lot of the airlines waited for the Port Authority to force their hand before making major cancellations,” said Robert W. Mann Jr., an airline industry analyst and a former executive with major airlines.

“I think they consciously flew longer than they otherwise would have because they realized they will never be able to re-accommodate some of these customers in any kind of a relevant time frame,” he said.

Many of those customers had booked nonrefundable tickets for trips revolving around the holiday weekend. So their plans were upended even if they rebooked without having to pay a change fee, which the airlines are waiving, though with restrictions, for those whose travels were disrupted by the storm. The question for them is when they will be able to be accommodated.

Meanwhile, flying airplanes back to the right airports, and flying them out again on schedule, was only one of the major challenges. Getting vast complexes like airports back into operation after major disruptions was another one.

Reporting was contributed by Christine Hauser, Ann Farmer, Ian Lovett, Dan Frosch and Robbie Brown. E-mail:

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I.M.F. Chief Quits in Wake of Charges of Sexual Attack

“It is with infinite sadness that I feel compelled today to present to the Executive Board my resignation from my post of managing director of the I.M.F.,” he said in a statement dated Wednesday and released early Thursday by the I.M.F. “I think at this time first of my wife — whom I love more than anything — of my children, of my family, of my friends.”

His resignation comes four days after Mr. Strauss-Kahn was taken off an Air France plane at Kennedy International Airport and arrested in connection with the accusations, and a day after Timothy F. Geithner, the Treasury secretary, urged the I.M.F. to appoint an interim managing director.

Mr. Strauss-Kahn, a former French finance minister, had been expected to declare his candidacy for the French presidency soon. He was seen as one of the candidates most likely to defeat President Nicolas Sarkozy.

In issuing his resignation, Mr. Strauss-Kahn said, “I want to say that I deny with the greatest possible firmness all of the allegations that have been made against me.”

News of the arrest produced an earthquake of shock, outrage, disbelief and embarrassment throughout France.

Though Mr. Strauss-Kahn received generally high marks for his stewardship of the bank, his reputation was tarnished in 2008 by an affair with a Hungarian economist who was a subordinate there. The fund decided to stand by him despite concluding that he had shown poor judgment. He issued an apology to employees at the bank and his wife, Anne Sinclair, an American-born French journalist.

French media quickly announced Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s resignation and underscored that he was leaving to focus on proving his innocence. Commentators said it was unusual for Mr. Strauss-Kahn to use personal language, including references to his wife, family and colleagues at the I.M.F.

Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s extramarital affairs have long been considered an open secret. But the legal charges against him — which include attempted rape, forced oral sex and an effort to sequester another person against her will — are of an entirely different magnitude, even in France and elsewhere in continental Europe, where voters have generally shown more lenience than Americans toward the sexual behavior of prominent politicians, most notably the escapades of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy.

Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s resignation sets off the jockeying for his replacement. The French finance minister, Christine Lagarde, is considered a leading candidate to succeed Mr. Strauss-Kahn, her friend and colleague. Her straight talk has helped burnish Ms. Lagarde’s reputation as one of Europe’s most influential ambassadors in the world of international finance.

Her main competition, analysts say, is Kemal Dervis, a former finance minister of Turkey. Mr. Dervis is credited with rescuing the Turkish economy after it was hit by a devastating financial crisis in 2001, in part by securing a multibillion-dollar loan from the I.M.F. Before that, Mr. Dervis worked at the World Bank for 24 years.

In the meantime, the I.M.F. said in its statement Wednesday night that John Lipsky would remain as acting managing director.

Mr. Lipsky can continue until a new chief is appointed. He had already announced plans to leave the agency in August. Normally, a successor is voted by the agency’s 24-member executive board, with large financial contributors like the United States, Japan and China getting a bigger percentage of voting rights. It was not immediately clear when the board would start to consider candidates, whom member countries must nominate.

Europeans want to keep one of their own in a post they have occupied since the I.M.F was created after World War II. But the world’s fast-growing emerging nations say their time has come to run a big institution like the I.M.F., given their growing global economic might.

Lori Moore contributed reporting to this article from New York, and Liz Alderman from Paris.

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