Hurricane Sandy disrupted air travel across the U.S., grounding about 12,500 flights today and tomorrow as the storm barreled toward the northeast and forced the region’s major airports to suspend operations.
Some airlines began extending cancellations through Oct. 31 as the storm’s track became clearer. Scrubbed flights totaled 7,670 today and more than 4,800 tomorrow, according to FlightAware, a Houston-based industry data provider. Counting flights grounded yesterday, the tally reaches 13,785.
United Continental Holdings Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc. and AMR Corp.’s American Airlines cut their schedules as virtually all service was halted to New York, Washington and Philadelphia. New York’s three airports make up the nation’s busiest air-travel market, so the upheaval rippled throughout the U.S. and curbed international service as well.
“If you are flying in or out of the East Coast today or tomorrow, you are out of luck,” said Keith Gerr, a spokesman for industry researcher FlightStats.com. “Anyone transiting through major hubs like San Francisco, Chicago and Dallas-Fort Worth will experience high delays and cancels.”
Chicago’s O’Hare airport, the nation’s second-busiest for passenger traffic behind Atlanta’s Hartsfield, had more than 450 flights scrapped today, chiefly because of Sandy, the Chicago Department of Aviation said in a statement. More than 100 were dropped at Midway airport, a base for Southwest Airlines Co.
Among fliers stranded far from the storm’s path was Carolyn Treasure, a 23-year-old Harvard Medical School student visiting her boyfriend and family members over the weekend. Her Southwest flight to Boston was canceled late yesterday, and the earliest available return trip was Oct. 31.
“There’s nothing I can really do about it, so I’m studying for a big anatomy test and just riding it out,” Treasure said in a telephone interview. “I’m sort of worried this new flight home might get canceled, too.”
Cancellations ahead of severe weather keep planes, passengers and crew members out of harm’s way, and let airlines position jets to restart flights quickly once the danger passes. While carriers save on fuel and maintenance in such cases, they still must pay crews and rebooking expenses, and some customers won’t reschedule their scrapped flights.
U.S. airlines’ revenue loss from Sandy probably will be $100 million, said Michael Boyd, president of aviation consultant Boyd Group International Inc. in Evergreen, Colorado.
“It will be a huge hit, no question about it,” he said in an interview.
JetBlue Airways Corp., which has its largest base of operations at New York’s Kennedy, is joining local authorities in watching for any flooding at the region’s airports. New York’s LaGuardia and New Jersey’s Newark Liberty are the other two large airports in the area.
“Airport infrastructure must be operational before we even think about starting operations up again,” said Mateo Lleras, a spokesman. “Public transportation is a close second. We have to be able to get our crew members to the airport.”
The New York-based carrier canceled 1,200 flights from last night through the morning of Oct. 31 and suspended operations at the New York airports and Boston, cities that are touched by 70 percent of its flights, Lleras said.
Those markets, along with Washington and Philadelphia, were a focus of cancellations by United, Delta, American, Southwest and US Airways Group Inc. American said it was possible that its pullback may extend beyond Oct. 31.
US Airways canceled 1,641 flights today, or more than half its normal daily total. The Tempe, Arizona-based airline extended a shutdown in Philadelphia, New York and Washington airports through tomorrow, and added Boston.
At Chicago-based United, the 3,700 cancellations through Oct. 31 amount to 16 percent of the total for the period, said Rahsaan Johnson, a spokesman. The airline also halted regional flights in Cleveland through tomorrow afternoon due to high winds. Conditions permitting, United said it hopes to resume flights to New York tomorrow afternoon and to Dulles tomorrow night.
Delta canceled 2,500 flights through tomorrow and expects “limited flying” to resume at some airports tomorrow afternoon, said Morgan Durrant, spokesman for the Atlanta-based carrier. Delta is using hubs at Atlanta, Detroit and Cincinnati to stage planes that were bound for New York.
Southwest and its AirTran unit grounded 1,165 flights from the evening of Oct. 28 through midday tomorrow.
Sandy packed maximum sustained winds of 90 miles (145 kilometers) per hour, up from 75 mph earlier, the National Hurricane Center said at 5 p.m. New York time. The storm’s eye was about 40 miles south of Atlantic City, New Jersey. It isn’t expected to weaken before hitting near Cape May, New Jersey, in the next few hours, the center said.
High winds forced the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to close 11 towers at small- and mid-size airports from Delaware to Connecticut, according to an e-mailed statement. The top priority is to re-establish flights as soon as possible after the storm passes for potential relief efforts, the FAA said.
The disruptions rippled across the Atlantic as well.
British Airways, the largest European carrier to the U.S., scrapped 38 flights to cities including New York, Newark, Baltimore, Boston, Washington and Philadelphia, with planes in London unable to make outbound and return journeys.
Deutsche Lufthansa AG grounded 13 flights, including trips to the U.S. from Munich and Dusseldorf, as well as its Frankfurt hub. Air France-KLM Group, Europe’s biggest airline, halted four flights from Paris to New York, one to Washington and one to Boston.
United Parcel Service Inc., the world’s biggest package delivery company, suspended air service to New York-area airports and several others along the East Coast today, said Susan Rosenberg, a spokeswoman. The Atlanta-based company sent European flights bound for East Coast airports to its main air hub in Louisville, Kentucky, she said.
Service is limited today in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, and UPS isn’t doing pickups or deliveries in certain parts of New Jersey, eastern Maryland, Delaware and other cities in Sandy’s path, Rosenberg said.
Amtrak, the U.S. long-distance passenger railroad, canceled service in the busy Northeast corridor through tomorrow.