A 6-inch blanket of snow prompted Delta Air Lines Inc. and AirTran Holdings Inc. to scrub most flights to and from Atlanta, the world’s busiest airport, and led United Parcel Service Inc. to suspend pickups and deliveries in its hometown.
Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed declared a state of emergency and urged people to avoid driving unless necessary. Hundreds of schools, government offices and businesses were closed, and thousands were without power.
The Atlanta airport, which remains open with its runways operational, has “almost no flight activity due to cancellations,” said John Kennedy, a spokesman. The airport handles about 88 million passengers a year.
Delta scrubbed 1,450 flights today, or about 25 percent of its regular schedule, with the “overwhelming bulk” into and out of Atlanta, said Anthony Black, a spokesman for the carrier. Delta and its regional partners account for about two-thirds of passengers at the airport, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
AirTran canceled at least 330 flights today, including all flights to and from Atlanta, its largest hub, spokesman Christopher White said in an e-mail message. The last time AirTran scrubbed all flights in a city was after the September 2001 terrorist attacks when the U.S. grounded all air traffic.
About 100 flights were halted in Charlotte, North Carolina, which is a hub for US Airways Group Inc., said Daniel Baker, chief executive officer of FlightAware, a Houston-based firm that tracks flight data.
Airlines have already pre-canceled 270 flights tomorrow in the U.S. Southeast, according to FlightAware.
UPS Halts Atlanta Service
UPS suspended pickups and deliveries for much of the Atlanta area today because many roads were impassable, said Susan Rosenberg, a spokeswoman for the world’s largest package-delivery firm.
“Most of our customers in Atlanta wouldn’t be there anyway to receive packages,” she said. Drivers will “ramp up” service tomorrow and most Atlanta packages should be delayed by just one day, she said. Operations at the company’s main air hub in Louisville, Kentucky, weren’t impacted, she said.
The storm is the second to snarl airline traffic in the past month. Atlanta-based Delta, United Continental Holdings Inc., JetBlue Airways Corp. and other large U.S. carriers eliminated more than 8,200 flights in the New York area at the end of December. The city’s airports were closed for portions of Dec. 26 and Dec. 27 amid the heaviest December snowfall since 1948.
It took some airlines five or more days to reaccommodate passengers on new flights around the Christmas and New Year’s holidays because planes in the U.S. were already flying about 90 percent full. That’s the highest level since World War II after airlines cut capacity by 9.1 percent in the past five years.
A winter storm warning is in effect in Atlanta until 7 p.m. local time today, with freezing rain possible this afternoon, according to the National Weather Service.