published Saturday, August 27th, 2011

Airlines scrap thousands of flights as Irene hits

SAMANTHA BOMKAMP, AP Airlines Writer

NEW YORK — Travelers across the country are facing days of grief ahead as thousands of flights are being cancelled because of Hurricane Irene.

Airlines are scrapping more than 8,300 flights this weekend from North Carolina to Boston, grounding passengers as Irene sweeps up the East Coast. There were more than 3,600 cancellations on Saturday alone.

All New York City-area airports closed to arriving flights at noon on Saturday, when the city's public transportation system shut down. The biggest airlines, United Continental Holdings Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc., canceled thousands of flights each. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport were both open as of noon, but most flights had been cancelled.

Airlines declined to say how many passengers would be affected by the hurricane, but the numbers will likely reach into the millions. That's because so many flights, both domestic and international, make connections through major East Coast hub airports. Even passengers not flying anywhere near the East coast could be delayed for days as airlines work to get planes and crews back into position.

Train and bus service is also extremely limited. Greyhound has suspended service between Richmond, Va. and Boston. Amtrak is reducing its Northeast schedule Saturday and cancelling all trains from Washington to Boston Sunday. It wasn't immediately clear how many passengers were affected by the cancellations.

Hurricane-force winds first arrived near Jacksonville, North Carolina, at dawn. A little more than an hour later, the storm's center passed near the southern tip of North Carolina's Outer Banks.

The last time the airlines were hit with a huge natural disaster was this winter, when they cancelled thousands of flights ahead of a pair of massive snowstorms. Both storms in December and February led to more than 10,000 cancellations over several days and left many stranded at airports.

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