Hurricane Sandy grounded thousands of flights in the United States (US) 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 cancelled for Monday and Tuesday, almost all related to the storm.
The cancellations have already surpassed those from last year's damaging Hurricane Irene. They're now on par with a major winter storm in early 2011. Back then, 14,000 flights were scrapped over four days.
Delays rippled across the US, affecting travellers in cities from San Francisco to Chicago. Disruptions spread to Europe and Asia, where airlines cancelled 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 US flights travel in or out of New York airports each day. So cancellations there can dramatically impact travel in other cities.
Thousands without power
By early afternoon, the storm had strengthened to 90 mph and had already knocked out power to tens of thousands of people. Sandy was 110 miles south-east of Atlantic City, NJ, and had turned toward the west, as forecasters feared. 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 travellers shouldn't even try to go to Kennedy, Newark Liberty, LaGuardia and Stewart airports.
Angela Gittens, director general of the Airports Council International who was the aviation director at Miami International Airport Dade during several hurricanes from 2001 to 2004, said even if storm damage is minor it could be a week before operations are normal at major East Coast airports.
It's still too early to assess the impact on airlines' bottom lines. Many of the customers on flights currently being cancelled will reschedule later on, so the airline will still collect the fare. But the cost of parking planes for days, along with potential damage, will undoubtedly cost airlines millions.