Mary Altaffer, Associated Press
NEW YORK — Hurricane Sandy grounded thousands of flights in the U.S. northeast Monday and upended travel plans across the globe, stranding passengers from Hong Kong to Europe. The massive storm threatens to bring a near halt to air travel for at least two days in a key region for both domestic and international flights.
Major carriers such as American Airlines, United and Delta cancelled all flights into and out of three area airports in New York, the nation's busiest airspace. According to the flight-tracking service FlightAware, nearly 10,000 flights had been canceled for Monday and Tuesday, almost all related to the storm.
Delays rippled across the U.S., affecting travelers in cities such as San Francisco to Chicago. Disruptions spread to Europe and Asia, where airlines canceled or delayed flights to New York and Washington from cities that are major travel hubs including London, Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong.
About one-quarter of all U.S. flights travel in or out of New York airports each day. So cancellations here can dramatically impact travel in other cities.
Businessman Alan Shrem was trying to return home to Boca Raton, Fla. His Monday morning Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to New York's Kennedy airport was canceled.
He learned he could be stuck in Hong Kong for nearly a week because the next available seat was Nov. 4. He was put on a waiting list for seats that could become available earlier.
"They just say: Yeah, it's a pretty big waiting list," said Shrem, throwing up his hands. In the meantime, he'll have to fork out $400 a night to continue staying at a nearby hotel. The airline won't pay for accommodation for stranded passengers if delays are weather related.
Forecasters say Hurricane Sandy is about 310 miles (505 kilometers) southeast of New York City, and the center of the storm is expected to be near the mid-Atlantic coast on Monday night. The National Hurricane Center said early Monday that the storm has top sustained winds of 85 mph (140 kph), with higher gusts. Sandy is on track to collide with a wintry storm moving in from the west and cold air streaming down from the Arctic.
Airports in the metropolitan New York City area are open, but air carriers are not operating.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said Monday that travelers shouldn't even try to go to Kennedy, Newark Liberty, LaGuardia and Stewart airports
Air travel in the Northeast started getting complicated on Sunday, when passengers were reporting multi-hour wait times at airline call centers.
Eileen Merberg, 50, was booked on a United flight from her home in Rochester, N.Y. to New Orleans, connecting at Washington D.C.'s Dulles airport.
She received an email saying the Washington flight was canceled. United rebooked her first on a flight through Newark and, when that flight was also canceled, on another flight through Chicago.
By that point, she already had told the higher education conference that she was scheduled to speak at that she wouldn't be coming. She tried to cancel her flight over the phone. After two lengthy waits — her cell phone battery ran out during the first one — she just hung up.
JetBlue Airways Corp. expects its cancellations from Sunday through Tuesday to total about 1,200. The airline has hubs at Kennedy airport and Boston's Logan. Rob Maruster, chief operating officer of JetBlue, hopes to resume New York flights on Wednesday morning. But he's worried about flooding of JFK's runways since they are all basically at sea level and near bodies of water.
Delta Air Lines Inc. has canceled 2,100 flights over the three days. American Airlines has scrapped 1,000 flights, including 260 on regional affiliate American Eagle.
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