US carriers cancel 9,500+ flights as Hurricane Irene hits New York

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3 Nov 2010
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US carriers including United Continental Holdings (UAL) and Delta Air Lines (DAL) scrubbed more than 9,500 flights as Hurricane Irene churned up the East Coast and shuttered airports in New York, the nation’s busiest travel market. American Airlines halted New York City-area flights as of 10 AM local time, while United and Delta earlier scrubbed their full schedules. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey closed John F Kennedy and LaGuardia airports and three smaller facilities to arriving flights as of noon local time as the city awaited heavy rain and wind. “We need to make sure that we give our customers and our employees ample time to get home before mass transit systems are closed,” said Andrea Huguely, an American Airlines spokeswoman. Philadelphia’s airport remains open, although airlines have reduced arrivals and departures throughout the day and none are scheduled for Monday, said Victoria Lupica, an airport spokeswoman.

The airport terminals will remain open for passengers who may be stuck at the facility, according to a Bloomberg report. The six biggest US airlines cancelled at least 9,570 flights till Monday because of the storm. Another 334 were scrubbed earlier in the week as the hurricane approached. New York officials suspended train, bus and subway service at noon today, making it harder for workers and passengers to reach airports. More than 370,000 people were ordered to evacuate low-lying areas. Delta and United are the biggest airlines in the New York market, while American Airlines operates both domestic and international hubs from the city. International carriers, including Air France, British Airways, Deutsche Lufthansa, Virgin Atlantic and Aer Lingus, grounded 128 flights to and from the US Northeast, according to spokesmen and carrier websites. US Airways Group (LCC) cancelled 2,333 flights through August 29, including 1,655 on Monday, said Todd Lehmacher, a spokesman. The airline scrubbed its full schedules in New York, Philadelphia, Washington and Boston tomorrow. “We’re stressing for customers flying on US Airways not to show up at those airports because there won’t be any flights,” Lehmacher said in an interview. “Our focus is not only on keeping our employees safe, but also our customers.” United Continental scrubbed 2,300 flights on Sunday and Monday, and Delta is dropping 1,505 flights through August 29. Delta stopped service at three Virginia airports today and won’t make flights tomorrow to New York, Philadelphia, Boston and four other smaller northeast cities, said Morgan Durrant, a spokesman.

JetBlue Airways Corp, the first major carrier to cancel weekend flights, is dropping 1,272 over the same period, said Mateo Lleras, a spokesman. The airline halted operations at its biggest base in Kennedy and will do the same in Boston at 10 PM, he said. American, a unit of AMR Corp, is grounding 1,103 flights and suspended service at Washington-area airports for about 24 hours starting at noon today, said Tim Smith, a spokesman. Southwest Airlines (LUV) suspended service today in Norfolk, Virginia, and scrapped 740 flights, in addition to 322 flights at its AirTran unit, through August 29. Southwest suspended flights in Philadelphia starting at 2 pm local time on Sunday through Monday, and at LaGuardia and Newark all weekend.

Irene may cause USD 6.5 billion in overall economic losses, according to estimates by Kinetic Analysis. A more easterly track and less intensity puts the company’s projected insured losses at USD 3.1 billion. The last storm of this magnitude to menace the Northeast was 1985’s Hurricane Gloria, which killed 11 people and caused USD 900 million in damage. Irene is on a similar track.

Like JetBlue, Delta has a hub at Kennedy, and United’s Continental Airlines flies from New Jersey’s Newark Liberty. Together with La- Guardia, the three airports form the busiest U.S. aviation market with almost 104 million passengers last year, according to Airports Council International. Sandwiching that airspace is Philadelphia, where US Airways has a hub and Southwest is the second-largest operator; Washington, home to United’s hub at Dulles airport and a US Airways base at Ronald Reagan National; and Boston, where JetBlue is the largest tenant.
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