The airline carriers warn that several major airports in New York and Washington, DC, could shut down entirely to guard against Hurricane Irene this weekend.
Because the region is home to the nation’s busiest airspace, the cancellations are expected to cause delays at airports across the country starting Saturday, stranding tens of thousands of travelers, many returning from summer vacations.
Amtrak, meanwhile, said it planned to cancel most train service south of Washington, DC, through Sunday.
The Los Angeles times reports that officials at Los Angeles International Airport said all flights remained on schedule Friday but that routes to and from the East Coast could be delayed or canceled over the weekend as the first major hurricane of the 2011 season slams the Atlantic coastline.
“Sunday will be the worst day,” said Tim Smith, a spokesman for American Airlines, which plans to cancel 265 flights primarily in Washington, New York, Virginia, and North Carolina.
Several airline officials predicted that most of the cancellations will take place Sunday, when the storm is expected to reach high-traffic airports, including New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and Dulles International Airport near Washington.
United and Continental airlines, owned by the same parent company, announced plans to cancel 2,300 East Coast flights combined over the weekend. The airlines also said they would suspend all operations Saturday and Sunday at JFK, nearby LaGuardia Airport, and Newark Liberty International Airport.
Delta Air Lines, the nation’s largest carrier, said it will cancel about 1,300 flights from Saturday to Monday. The flights represent nearly 8% of the airline’s total operations for that period, Delta spokesman Anthony Black said.
“Those numbers are likely to be adjusted upward,” he said.
JetBlue Airways, which operates major hubs at New York’s JFK and at Boston’s Logan International Airport, said it plans to cancel 891 flights from those two airports Sunday and Monday.
Southwest Airlines said it will temporarily suspend all flights to and from Norfolk International Airport in Virginia all day Saturday. It operates 14 daily departures from Norfolk.
Several airlines have begun relocating dozens of planes from the path of the storm to prevent damage to aircraft. Airline officials said they may be forced to cancel more flights as they evaluate the strength and direction of the storm over the weekend.
“Airlines are fine-tuning schedules and making proactive adjustments,” said Steve Lott, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association, the trade group that represents the nation’s largest airlines.
Most of the airlines — including Southwest, Delta, United, American, and JetBlue — have offered to waive passenger fees over the weekend that are normally charged when flight reservations are changed.