With Hurricane Irene bearing down on the East Coast, U.S. air carriers have canceled more than 6,000 flights this weekend and warned that several major airports in New York and Washington could shut down entirely to guard against the storm’s destructive force.
Because the region is home to the nation’s busiest airspace, the cancellations are expected to cause delays at airports across the country starting today, stranding tens of thousands of travelers, many returning from summer vacations.
Late Friday, aviation officials said they would close the five main New York City-area airports to arriving domestic and international flights beginning at noon today. Many departures also were canceled. The airports are John F. Kennedy International, Newark Liberty International, LaGuardia, Stewart International and Teterboro.
Amtrak, meanwhile, said it planned to cancel most train service south of Washington, D.C., through Sunday.
Several airline officials predicted that the worst of the disruptions 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.
“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.
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 today 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 today to Monday. The flights represent nearly 8 percent of the airline’s total operations for that period, Delta spokesman Anthony Black said.
JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines also planned to suspend flights.
Most of the airlines have offered to waive passenger fees over the weekend that are normally charged when flight reservations are changed.