Airlines lose millions to storm

NEW YORK — Winter storms forced airlines to ground nearly 20,000 flights this week, resulting in an estimated net loss of $121 million to $150 million, according to AirlineForecasts on Friday.

American Airlines, the country's third-largest carrier, took the biggest estimated hit after high winds and ice closed its Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport hub on Tuesday.

AMR Corp.-owned American, along with American Eagle and its other commuter operations, racked up more than 5,300 cancellations for the week, according to FlightAware, which tracks airline performance.

Assuming 10 percent to 30 percent of customers stranded by the weather choose to not reschedule, the cancellations likely reduced AMR's first-quarter net income by $41.5 million to $51.3 million, or 12.5 cents to 15 cents a share, said Vaughn Cordle, chief analyst at AirlineForecasts.

"The airlines accrue for a certain amount of winter losses in their operations, so when they actually report it, (the actual) losses could be less — this is a ballpark figure," Cordle said in an interview.

"But the magnitude of this week's cancellations is historic," he added. "It's an extraordinarily large number."

AMR declined to comment.

Dallas-Fort Worth International saw 1,589 cancellations, but that number was a far second to the 2,090 cancellations at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, which was as brought to a virtual standstill on Tuesday and Wednesday by blizzard-like conditions.

Chicago, another hub for American, is the home for rival United Continental Holdings , which saw more than 5,000 cancellations between its United and Continental units, as well as an additional 3,000 cancellations among its commuter operations.

United Continental likely saw the second-worst loss from the weather, with an estimated $38.4 million to $47 million reduction to its first-quarter net income, or 12 cents to 14.6 cents a share, Cordle said.

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, along with its commuter operations, grounded 3,900 flights, likely resulting in a $24.1 million to a $30.2 million hit to its bottom line, or 3 cents to 4 cents a share.

And finally, Southwest Airlines Co. canceled nearly 2,300 flights, reducing its first-quarter net income by an estimated $11 million to $13.5 million, or roughly 2 cents a share.

United Continental and Delta declined to comment. No one at Southwest was immediately available to comment.