Hurricane Sandy is moving up the eastern coast of the US and threatening to nearly halt all air travel for two days. By mid-afternoon on Sunday, US airlines had cancelled more than 7,000 flights through Tuesday ahead of the storm arriving, and more flight cancellations are likely to be on the way.
The airlines had cancelled around 1,200 Sunday services and over 5,500 for Monday in an attempt to prepare for a very threatening storm. Then about 640 more flights were cancelled for Tuesday. The flight cancellations affect both domestic and international services – mostly to and from airports in the New York area, but other airports on the coast between Washington and Boston have been impacted as well.
Hurricane Sandy is due to hit land by tonight, but high winds have been hitting many cities already. Most air traffic control towers are shut down when winds hit 60 knots to 70 knots. However, many of the cancellations for Sunday and early Monday are due to airline and airport staff not being able to get to work because of mass-transit closures. New York prepared its transit system to close from 7pm on Sunday evening, while Amtrak cancelled almost all its rail services for Monday along the coast.
A United Airlines spokesman said that the company suspended several flights to airports in the Washington and New York areas from Sunday evening, and they plan to resume services on Tuesday if they can. American Airlines and American Eagle have cancelled more than 1,500 flights between Monday and Wednesday. US Airways suspended all flights at three airports in New York for Sunday and Monday, as well as operations at Washington and Philadelphia airports for Monday. JetBlue Airways cancelled over 1,000 flights from Sunday until early Wednesday. Even Air France cancelled six flights at John F. Kennedy, and Lufthansa cancelled four in the region.
Due to the flight cancellations, US carriers are waiving penalty fees for passengers to change their reservations. However, customers will have to use their rebookings by 4 November. This only gives them a week to reuse their fares. Passengers who aren’t able to travel by then will be issued a refund. There’s no telling how well the carriers will be able to recover their operations, as it will depend on ground conditions. Transit services will need to be up and running again so that airport and airline staff can get to work, while more flights could also be disrupted if terminal buildings are damaged during the storm. If everything survives the storm well enough, airlines will be able to resume service quickly.
The Weather Channel forecast that winds would gradually increase in the Northeast on Sunday, and showers were expected to move into the area during the night in New York. They expect the most dangerous conditions to be experienced on Monday and Tuesday, with winds reaching 60mph at the coast and 45mph in the western and northern suburbs – mostly on Monday night. Winds are likely to gust at more than 75mph, particularly on the coast and at the higher floors of New York City’s skyscrapers.
Hurricane Sandy is such a threat that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered parts of the Rockaways and lower Manhattan to evacuate, while 76 shelters have been opened. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie ordered an evacuation of the coast as part of a state of emergency, and thousands of residents were moving inland early yesterday. The state’s transit system was shut down as well, from 4pm Sunday until 2am this morning.