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Airlines and passengers brace for winter storm and canceled flights

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LOWER SWATARA TOWNSHIP, DAUPHIN COUNTY, Pa. -- Travelers with plans to fly on Tuesday or Wednesday should start thinking about a Plan B in case their flight gets canceled.

Many airlines have already taken precautions to ground flights scheduled for Tuesday at some airports.

Some airlines may still be deciding if they should cancel flights, although more than half of all Monday night's departing flights from Harrisburg International Airport have already been canceled.

Most travelers set to fly out of HIA won't have to wait until Tuesday to make their decision on what to do next.

With a major winter storm on the way, Harrisburg International Airport could end up looking like a ghost town if the airlines cancel flights.

HIA spokesperson Scott Miller said "it's a very difficult decision, and yes, they want to get out of dodge as soon as they can, but not a minute before they have to."

"They want to complete as many flights as they can today as possible, here and system wide. What they don't want to do is potentially, 'OK, let's fly an airplane in here tonight and have it snowed in here, all day tomorrow because of visibility issues," Miller added.

After all, airlines don't want passengers to weather the storm stranded with it's planes and crew stuck at an airport.

"Right now American or Delta, and Air Canada, all have Harrisburg listed as a destination which you could rebook without any type of penalty. I'm sure United would do the same thing as well," Miller said.

Passengers shouldn't leave their travel plans up in the air, but should take steps to plan ahead instead.

"The cellphone app does a great job of rebooking, flight statuses, communication, it is the best way to communicate with the airline," Miller said.

The chances for a traveler taking off also might depend upon their choice of airline.

"Allegiant makes their flight decisions on a case by case basis. Because of their schedule not flying every day, they do everything they can to fly the flight, even if it's snowing. Provided it's safe," Miller said.

If the severe winter weather does ground planes, passengers won't be the only ones affected. There are a number of factors in which the storm also could hit the airport's bottom line, at a cost of up to a $60,000 per day.

"Four dollars and fifty cents for every airline ticket that's purchased comes to the airport, the rest goes to the airline and the government. Number two, we make money from parking, and that's the largest money maker. Number three when the airplane lands, they pay a fee, to land and use the facility. And four, we get a small percentage of what is sold in the concessionaires," Miller said.

When you don't have a flight, you don't get the departure ticket, you don't get the landing fee, you don't get the parking, and you don't get the concessions," Miller added.

Many people may be calling the airlines with questions about cancellations and rebookings, so it may be difficult to get someone on the phone.

The best bet for faster service is to use your airline's smartphone app to rebook a flight or to go to the airline's website for more information.