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‘Doesn’t Function Wet:’ DFW, Love Field saw major travel disruptions in late May



‘Doesn’t Function Wet:’ DFW, Love Field saw major travel disruptions in late May

You weren’t alone if your travel plans changed at DFW International Airport or Dallas Love Field at the end of May.

James “Jimmy” Goldstein, who’s attended more than 5,000 NBA games, was not courtside to watch the Dallas Mavericks play the Minnesota Timberwolves in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals. Mesquite woman Shirley Smith and her husband missed a family wedding in Atlanta.

They’re among the thousands of North Texas travelers who faced a cancelation or delay due to bad weather during the last week in May. According to data from aviation analytics firm Cirium, 5% of the over 37,000 flights scheduled in May were canceled at North Texas airports. Travelers, especially over the last few days of May with Memorial Day travel, were stranded at the airport or had to head back home because a flight wouldn’t take off.

In May, according to Cirium’s monthly on-time performance report, 11,491 flights were canceled in North America. The cancelation rate for the top 100 airports in the country in May 2024 was 1.23%, including both North Texas airports.

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Of those 1,896 canceled flights, about two-thirds came in just eight days from May 24 to 31, a period of significant rainfall, storms and even some tornado warnings in the region.

A nickname has emerged about the plague bad weather places on the North Texas airports: “Doesn’t. Function. Wet,” according to Henry Harteveldt, president of Atmosphere Research Group and travel industry analyst.

On May 28, the day more than 500,000 people in North Texas were without power, wind gusts of up to 80 miles per hour disrupted many passengers at both airports. Completion factor, the measurement taken by air carriers to understand how many flights actually traveled to their destination, was low. At Love Field, only 52.97% of flights actually arrived at their destination on May 28. At DFW Airport, 64.11% of flights made it to their destination.

Tyler Roys, senior meteorologist at Accuweather called it “days upon days” of severe storms. Dallas-Fort Worth, he said, saw nearly four and a half inches of rainfall in May.

“That definitely would lead to a significant amount of travel disruptions,” Roys said.

The strong winds even pushed parked, unoccupied American Airlines jets on May 28. No injuries were reported.

Harteveldt said there’s always a challenge when two airports like DFW and Love Field are in such close proximity to one another. The Federal Aviation Administration is tasked with directing traffic for both. Add in inclement weather and there’s a real challenge.

“When bad weather happens, DFW just seems to fall apart,” Harteveldt said, noting other cities that have two large airports, like Chicago or New York City. “Whenever bad weather strikes the region, DFW really seems to achieve far more delays and far more cancellations than you would otherwise expect.”

He credits Fort Worth-based American Airlines with working with the Federal Aviation Administration to ensure safety, such as minimizing taxi time during extreme weather events. The Federal Aviation Administration requires aircraft designs to withstand lightning. Airlines also must have procedures with their maintenance programs for these sorts of events.

He said Love Field also has challenges because of the volume of traffic it sees, but not nearly as close to DFW’s traffic. DFW Airport is the third-busiest airport in the world based on passenger traffic.

Heath Montgomery, vice president of communication and marketing at DFW Airport, said severe weather in May and early June impacted many residents and businesses in the region.

“Similarly, severe storms also disrupted airport operations, as the FAA implemented multiple air traffic control programs to safely manage the flow of aircraft during inclement weather, and those working on the airfield are brought indoors during lightning or other weather-related threats,” Montgomery said in an email. “The airlines, which manage their own schedules, worked in challenging conditions to limit delays and assist their customers.”

When there are cases of inclement weather, the airport conducts airfield inspections for storm debris and works with concessions to stay open later for delayed passengers, he said.

Hilda Lopez, spokeswoman for the city of Dallas’ Department of Aviation, said the safety and well-being of passengers is a top priority. During the storms, the airport implemented inclement weather protocols, which included monitoring conditions, coordinating with airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration and managing water accumulation and runway safety.

“During one of the storms that produced strong winds and hail, Dallas Love Field staff diligently directed terminal occupants away from windows to ensure their safety,” Lopez said in an email.

The airport also coordinated during the severe weather with the city and Oncor, the largest transmission and distribution electric utility in Texas, to monitor traffic conditions, including the traffic lights that were out around the airport’s roads.

Inclement weather, like severe thunderstorms, has resulted in over 1,400 deaths and more than $50 billion in damage in Texas since 1980. Climate scientists are warning the risk and intensity of severe weather in the state is likely to worsen, as emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gasses continue to increase.

“With bad weather in the D-FW area, it seems like the airports just aren’t able to cope,” Harteveldt said.

Rain falls as storms move through North Texas at Dallas Love Field on Thursday, May 30, 2024, in Dallas. At 1 p.m. Thursday, 50% of flights departing DFW Airport were delayed and 5% were canceled. At Dallas Love Field, 14% of departing flights were delayed and 11% canceled. (Juan Figueroa / Staff Photographer)
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