Airlines scrapped one in five scheduled U.S. flights today as Sandy, the Atlantic superstorm, paralyzed operations in the Northeast and spawned disruptions rivaling the toll from recent blizzards.
The former hurricane, now termed a post-tropical cyclone, grounded 6,047 U.S. flights, or 20 percent of the day’s total, according to data compiled by industry researcher FlightAware. Flooding forced the closing of all three of New York’s main airports, which serve the nation’s busiest air-travel market.
Hundreds of thousands of passengers faced a fourth day of upheavals while carriers such as United Continental Holdings Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc. and American Airlines worked to restore their networks. Cancellations are intended to get planes and people out of harm’s way and let airlines position jets to restart flights quickly once the danger passes.
“They say, ‘we’re going to stop where we are, wait for this thing to pass and see how it goes,’” said Michael Boyd, president of aviation consultant Boyd Group International Inc. “Consumers have to realize that when you book an airline ticket, you’re taking some responsibility for the fact that weather happens.”
About 15 percent of U.S. flights from Oct. 27 through late yesterday were canceled due to Sandy, based on data compiled by Portland, Oregon-based researcher FlightStats Inc. For weather events since 2005, that ranked second only to the 16 percent rate for a December 2010 New York snowstorm, the data show.
Carriers have scrubbed 635 flights for tomorrow, according to Houston-based FlightAware. “We expect this number to rise once damage can be assessed and re-open times are communicated,” the company said in an e-mail.
Airport damage assessments were still under way early today for New York’s John F. Kennedy International and LaGuardia, and New Jersey’s Newark Liberty, Ron Marsico, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, said in an e-mail.
Runways and terminals sat idle from Washington to Boston early today as airlines swept East Coast flights off their timetables. Delta is using hubs at Atlanta, Detroit and Cincinnati to stage planes that had been bound for New York.
US Airways Group Inc. has no flights today to New York, Washington’s Reagan National Airport or Philadelphia, said Todd Lehmacher, a spokesman. The Tempe, Arizona-based carrier canceled 1,600 of the day’s flights, or about half the schedule, as officials assess infrastructure, he said.
Sandy’s toll is already greater than Hurricane Irene’s in August 2011, when that storm took aim at New York and triggered flight cutbacks along the East Coast. Over six days, airlines cut 8.5 percent of their flights, based on the data from FlightStats.
The cancellation rate for Sandy through yesterday topped the 13 percent for a January 2011 ice storm that belted the U.S. Southeast, including Delta’s Atlanta hub; the 10 percent for a February 2010 storm in the northern U.S.; and the 5.4 percent from the 2007 Valentine’s Day ice storm that crippled JetBlue Airways Corp.’s operations, the data showed.
By volume, the Sandy-related cancellations were still short of the 22,441 that FlightStats tallied for the February 2010 storm. Those were amassed over a 10-day period.
Chicago’s O’Hare airport, the nation’s second-busiest for passenger traffic behind Atlanta’s Hartsfield, had more than 270 flights cancellations today as Sandy kept the East Coast cut off from the rest of the travel grid. Almost 70 were dropped at Midway airport, a base for Southwest Airlines Co.
U.S. airlines’ revenue loss from Sandy probably will be $100 million, according to consultant Boyd, who is based in Evergreen, Colorado.
“It will be a huge hit, no question about it,” he said yesterday in an interview.
JetBlue, which has its largest base at New York’s Kennedy, is awaiting an update on damage at New York airports and is ready to resume operations there tomorrow afternoon, said Mateo Lleras, a spokesman.
“The availability of public transportation will also play into the New York plan,” Lleras said. “It remains very, very fluid.”
JetBlue expects to resume partial operations at Washington and Boston later today, Lleras said.
The New York-based carrier canceled 1,200 flights from Oct. 28 through tomorrow morning and suspended operations at the New York airports and Boston, cities that are touched by 70 percent of its flights, Lleras said yesterday.
Those markets, along with Washington and Philadelphia, were a focus of cancellations by United, Delta, AMR Corp.’s American, Southwest and US Airways.
American hopes to resume arrivals this morning at Boston, midday at Pittsburgh and Hartford, Connecticut; and after 5 p.m. in Richmond, Virginia; and Dayton, Columbus and Cleveland, Ohio, according to Andrea Huguely, a spokeswoman for the Fort Worth, Texas-based airline.
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