Mar. 4--Logan International Airport officials have been scrambling to do some damage control after a top official questioned why US airlines canceled flights in droves during a big snowstorm last month while international carriers kept flying.
John A. Quelch, chairman of the board of the Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs Logan, set off a ruckus after he observed at a Massport board meeting that it was "a little bit disappointing" that US airlines were so quick to cancel flights into Logan. In contrast, not a single international flight during the 17-inch snowstorm of Feb. 11-12 was diverted or canceled by Massport officials, who said they never had to close down the airport for lack of plowed runways.
"Our international carriers seem to better recognize our ability to stay open than our domestic carriers do," said Quelch, a British-born Harvard Business School professor and dean, who praised British Airways in particular for landing three flights right on schedule during the snowstorm.
What started out as a mild-mannered zing by Quelch, however, generated a furor. Massport officials got dozens of angry calls and in-person chew-outs by US airline executives furious that it sounded like Quelch was calling them snow wimps, according to four industry executives involved in the brouhaha. "The airlines are totally ripped," said one Logan-based executive who asked for anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press.
Hoping to quell the outrage, Massport aviation director Thomas J. Kinton Jr. recently sent out a letter to several airlines describing a Boston Globe article about Quelch's comments as "an unfortunate mischaracterization of the intent of the comments" by Quelch. He was only trying to praise Logan snow crews for keeping the airport open, Kinton said.
"The chairman and the Massport team fully recognize that our ability to keep Logan open and operational is due in large part to the efforts of airlines to thin schedules by canceling flights," Kinton wrote. "Massport fully supports the airline scheduling decisions during inclement weather ... Furthermore, we know that these decisions are made with the best interests of the passengers in mind."
Representatives of several airlines that operate at Logan have all declined to respond to Quelch's comment, saying they do not want to antagonize Massport, their powerful landlord. Massport did not release a copy of the letter publicly, but it was made available to the Globe by aviation industry executives.
"Let's just say we appreciated the tone of Tom's letter, and we're going to give this issue a real good leaving-alone," said one US airline official who would comment only on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals by Massport if the airline were identified as making the letter available.
US airline officials noted that it can be unfair to compare the flight-cancellation policies of international carriers that only fly one or two planes a day into Logan from snowless origins to airlines that run big, complex networks like Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, or US Airways and operate 80 or 100 flights a day out of Logan. If those airlines get a plane stuck in Boston, that can create delays in cities nationwide, a key factor that can lead them to cancel Logan flights.
Some airline officials recalled a January 1982 tragedy when a World Airways DC-10 skidded off the end of a snowy Logan runway, killing two passengers, and said erring on the side of safety is the best policy during snowstorms.
Massport spokesman Phil Orlandella said yesterday the authority would have no comment on the letter, which he said speaks for both Quelch and Kinton.