Thousands of flights are canceled along East Coast

Charles Foster rode out Hurricane Irene in a Dagsboro, Del., shelter yesterday. More than 9,000 flights are expected to be canceled this weekend, and the effect could be felt for days. Charles Foster rode out Hurricane Irene in a Dagsboro, Del., shelter yesterday. More than 9,000 flights are expected to be canceled this weekend, and the effect could be felt for days. (Suchat Pederson/The News Journal)
By Samantha Bomkamp
Associated Press / August 28, 2011

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NEW YORK - Travelers across the country are facing days of grief after thousands of flights were canceled because of Hurricane Irene.

Airlines expect to scrap more than 9,000 flights this weekend from North Carolina to Boston, grounding passengers on the East Coast. There were more than 3,600 cancellations yesterday alone.

All New York City-area airports closed to arriving flights at noon yesterday, when the city’s public transportation system shut down. The biggest airlines, United Continental Holdings Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc., each canceled thousands of flights. United Continental, the world’s largest airline, suspended operations altogether in the New York area.

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport were both open yesterday afternoon, but most flights had been canceled.

Airlines declined to say how many passengers would be affected by the hurricane, but the numbers probably will reach into the millions. That’s because so many flights, both domestic and international, make connections through major East Coast hub airports.

Even passengers not flying anywhere near the East Coast could be delayed for days as airlines work to get planes and crews back into position.

Train and bus service was also reduced. Greyhound suspended service between Richmond, Va., and Boston for the weekend. Amtrak reduced its Northeast schedule yesterday and canceled all trains from Washington to Boston today. Amtrak has five main routes across the Northeast, each serving multiple cities, as well as regional service in Virginia and several long-distance trains that start and end in the area.

Airlines have been filling their flights much closer to capacity over the last year in an effort to become more efficient. That makes it harder for stranded passengers to find empty seats on new flights after the weather gets better. Airlines waived ticket-change fees for most East Coast travelers affected by the storm. Some pushed off the $150 penalties for as much as a week to encourage travelers to make new arrangements.

Andrea Huguely, a spokeswoman for American Airlines, said the airline has already canceled some flights for tomorrow. The airline, owned by AMR Corp., is aiming to resume flights in North Carolina and Virginia after noon today. She said it was not yet clear when flights in and out of New York would resume.

“The one thing about a hurricane is that you can prepare for it and you just have to adapt your plan based on how the storm travels,’’ Huguely said. “It’s basically an educated guessing game.’’

New York’s subway system, the largest in the nation, shut down yesterday, and the typically bustling city became unusually quiet as the rain began.

Sidewalks, streets, and bridges were nearly empty. Broadway shows and sporting events were canceled. Businesses were closed and subway riders raced to catch the last trains.

In an unprecedented move, more than 370,000 people in flood-prone areas of the city were told to evacuate before the storm. There was no specific number on how many people had followed the order, but only 1,400 people were staying in city shelters. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said by some building estimates, between 50 to 80 percent of designated people had left. top stories on Twitter

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