East Coast megastorm grounds thousands of flightsAirlines hastily canceled flights in the Northeast on Sunday as Hurricane Sandy moved up the coast. The massive storm threatens to bring a near halt to air travel for at least two days in a key region for both domestic and international flights.
By: Associated Press report, Associated Press
NEW YORK — Airlines hastily canceled flights in the Northeast on Sunday as Hurricane Sandy moved up the coast. The massive storm threatens to bring a near halt to air travel for at least two days in a key region for both domestic and international flights.
Major carriers such as American Airlines, JetBlue and Delta planned Sunday night to cancel all flights into and out of three area airports in New York, the nation's busiest airspace. Delays rippled across the U.S. and the Atlantic, affecting travelers in cities such as San Francisco, Chicago and Paris.
Cancellations are mounting. According to the flight-tracking service FlightAware, more than 7,200 flights had been canceled for Sunday and Monday as of late Sunday evening. Both Philadelphia International Airport and Newark International Airport, a hub for United Airlines, each had more than 1,200 cancellations for the two days.
The disruption spread to Asia, where numerous airlines canceled or rescheduled flights to New York and Washington from cities such as Tokyo, Hong Kong and Seoul, South Korea. Flight cancellations from European cities also mounted.
At New York's LaGuardia on Sunday, crowds filled the American Airlines terminal near midday, with families sitting on the floor waiting for a flight out — any flight out. A few travelers were sitting at a bar having a beer, watching football. Others nervously paced before flight information boards showing canceled flights, hoping their flight wouldn't be added to that list. It was almost double the normal crowd. Travelers were calm, but anxious.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs five airports in the area, said it expects all carriers to cease operations Sunday night. It advised passengers to check with their carriers before heading to the airport.
Passengers on Sunday were reporting multi-hour wait times at airline call centers.
Eileen Merberg, 50, was booked on a United flight from her home in Rochester, N.Y. to New Orleans, connecting at Washington D.C.'s Dulles airport.
First, the airline sent her an automated message via e-mail saying that her Washington flight was canceled and that she had been rebooked on a flight through Newark. About an hour later that flight was canceled. Another e-mail informed her she was rebooked through Chicago.
By that point, she already had told the higher education conference that she was scheduled to speak at that she wouldn't be coming. She tried to cancel her flight but United's phone lines were jammed. First she waited 62 minutes before her phone battery died. After recharging, she then spent 45 minutes on hold before a recording told her it would be at least another hour before a customer service employee would be available.
“Then I hung up,” Merberg said.