Sandy puts stop to US air travel

An outdoor sign lists cancelled flights at Philadelphia International Airport.
An outdoor sign lists cancelled flights at Philadelphia International Airport. Photo: Reuters

Superstorm Sandy has grounded more than 16,000 flights across the northeast of the US and around the globe, and it could be days before some passengers can get in the air.

According to flight tracking website Flightstats.com, 6127 flights were cancelled in the US on Tuesday, local time, and 547 flights are cancelled for Wednesday.

A total of 16,271 flights for North America have been cancelled since Saturday, the website said.

A car is partially submerged in flood waters on road leading to Teterboro Airport in Teterboro, New Jersey.
A car is partially submerged in flood waters on road leading to Teterboro Airport in Teterboro, New Jersey. Photo: Reuters

Qantas said the New York airport authority advised no flights would be operating to or from John F Kennedy airport, meaning flights QF107 from LA to New York and QF108 from New York to LA have not run since Monday.

Virgin Australia flights have not been affected, as they only operate between here and Los Angeles.

Flightstats.com said Atlantic City International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport and La Guardia Airport were also among those closed on Tuesday morning.

American news agency Associated Press reported that while there were widespread cancellations, detailed planning meant chaos at American airports was largely avoided.

Airlines spent days before the storm hit running though colour-coded checklists to shut down their northeast operations.

Computers were covered in plastic tarps. Hotel rooms near airports were booked for gate agents and ramp workers. Planes, pilots and flight attendants were moved to other airports.

And shelter was found for animals travelling as cargo.

"Anything that could move by the wind, we've locked down," said Henry Kuykendall, who oversees operations for Delta Air Lines at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The airlines' in-house meteorologists started tracking this storm more than a week ago as it approached the Caribbean.

By Thursday night, local time, it was clear that widespread cancellations would happen in Washington, Philadelphia, New York and Boston.

The next day, airlines started to waive fees for passengers who wanted to move to earlier or later flights. American Airlines, for instance, let travellers heading to any of 22 airports — from Greensboro, North Carolina in the south, to Buffalo, New York, in the north — change plans.

Then teams started to cancel flights heading into or out of airports stretching from Washington to Boston.

When Sandy hit, almost no planes were left in the northeast.

JetBlue scattered the majority of its planes to 20 different airports across the country, even though 80 per cent of its flights start or end in New York or Boston.

American Airlines moved 80 planes that were supposed to spend Sunday night in the Northeast to other airports.

A spokesman for Foreign Minister Bob Carr said there were 24,000 Australians in the affected areas of northeast America, but there had been no requests for urgent assistance or any reports of injuries.

About 100 Australians had called the Department of Foreign Affairs hotline to check up on their relatives travelling or living in the US, he said.

smh.com.au and agencies

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