UPDATE 1-U.S. airlines restore flights as cold snap eases

Wed Jan 8, 2014 3:29pm EST

Jan 8 (Reuters) - Air travel conditions improved in the U.S. on Wednesday with carriers cancelling fewer flights as wide sections of the country were forecast to warm up after a major cold snap.

Carriers canceled more than 1,100 flights on Wednesday, according to FlightAware.com, down from 3,200 on Tuesday. Since Jan. 1, carriers have canceled more than 19,300 flights, FlightAware showed.

Among major carriers, Delta Air Lines had canceled four flights and Southwest Airlines had halted 45 by mid-afternoon on Wednesday, the data showed.

"The regional carriers are still the last to catch up today," said Daniel Baker, chief executive of FlightAware.com. "I think things will be back to normal late today and by tomorrow."

Record cold temperatures in the United States in recent days had disabled equipment used to fuel airplanes and posed hazards for airline ramp workers. Experts at Accuweather.com forecast warmer weather around much of the country as an arctic air blast eases in the second half of this week.

JetBlue Airways, which resumed flights to four New York area and Boston airports on Tuesday after suspending operations in those locations Monday evening to reposition crew and planes, showed 13 cancellations early on the day Wednesday.

"It's looking really good today," JetBlue spokesman Anders Lindstrom said in an email. "Operations are back to being close to fully 100 percent operable."

American Airlines had canceled just under 100 flights Wednesday, most of them with its American Eagle regional unit, according to FlightAware.com.

"The cold temperatures at many outstations are still making things challenging for Eagle," American spokeswoman Andrea Huguely said in an email.

Helane Becker, an airline analyst with Cowen & Co, estimated the recent weather events would hurt industry earnings by $50 million to $100 million in the first quarter.

"We expect the airlines to be somewhat mixed over the next week or so as the airlines start estimating the impact from the (20,000) flights canceled as a result of difficult weather," Becker said in a note to clients.

Shares of major airlines moved up by mid-afternoon. JetBlue gained 3.6 percent to $8.99, and Delta rose 4 percent to $29.91. Southwest Airlines and United Continental were also higher, while American Airlines rose 2.4 percent to $27.56.

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