x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Frankenstorm grounds 18,000 flights with two more days of delays

From New York to Tokyo and Hong Kong, superstorm Sandy grounded more than 18,000 flights, and it will take days before travel gets back to normal.

Neighborus Lucille Dwyer (right) and Linda Strong embrace after looking through the wreckage of their homes devastated by fire in the wake of Hurricane Sandy at New York’s Breezy Point.
Neighborus Lucille Dwyer (right) and Linda Strong embrace after looking through the wreckage of their homes devastated by fire in the wake of Hurricane Sandy at New York’s Breezy Point.

From New York to Tokyo and Hong Kong, superstorm Sandy grounded more than 18,000 flights, and it will take days before travel gets back to normal.

The flight-tracking service FlightAware said that more than 7,000 flights were cancelled on Tuesday alone, with traffic resuming slowly yesterday.

Delays rippled across the US, affecting travellers in cities from San Francisco to Atlanta. Some passengers attempting to fly out of Europe and Asia also were stuck.

Authorities closed the three big New York airports because of the storm. New York has the nation's busiest airspace, so cancellations there dramatically affect travel to and from other cities.

It was possible that John F Kennedy airport would reopen for flights yesterday, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

It wasn't known when LaGuardia and Newark airports would reopen.

Emirates and Etihad were resuming flights to the east coast yesterday as the weather begins to improve in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Emirates flights EK201 and EK202 to and from New York will take off as scheduled today. However, flight EK203 from Dubai to New York and EK204 New York to Dubai remain cancelled.

Etihad flight EY101 from Abu Dhabi to New York departed on time yesterday.

"A resumption of our daily return service to and from New York on Wednesday is expected, pending airport infrastructure repairs and the re-opening of JFK airport," said Etihad yesterday.

Traffic from Europe and Asia to the east coast was also beginning to resume. Air France was scheduled to fly again from Paris to New York and Washington yesterday, subject to the reopening of the airports there.

It resumed flights to Boston the day before. However, ten of 13 scheduled flights between Spain and the US east coast were cancelled yesterday.

Traffic from Tokyo's Narita International Airport to New York and to Washington, resumed as of yesterday morning. From Tokyo's Haneda airport, the JAL/American Airlines flight to and from New York was cancelled.

Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific, which cancelled seven flights to Kennedy airport through Wednesday, said service would resume tomorrow.

South Korean airlines, Korean Air, and Asiana Airlines said they will resume normal service to East Coast cities starting late yesterday or tomorrow.

Travellers stuck overseas made the best of the delays they faced.

Peter and Sheryl Knight were scheduled to fly home to Washington from Hong Kong on Wednesday, but their Cathay Pacific Airways flight via New York's JFK was cancelled.

The airline put them on a flight for Chicago on Thursday, where they would board another flight home.

The delay gave them an extra day to enjoy Hong Kong, Mr Knight said.

"We're very anxious to get back and were very much hoping that the flight would be on time, but once we learnt it was delayed and once we learnt our delay would be only one day, Hong Kong's not a bad place to be for another day," he added.

Airlines anticipated the storm's effects and began cancelling flights on Saturday.

In years past, airlines would have operated many of those flights and left aeroplanes and crews stranded in the wrong cities when a blizzard or thunderstorm shut things down.

But airlines have become more aggressive about cancelling because it makes restarting flights easier.

"It's kind of like dominoes - when one aircraft is out of place, it means the flight crew is out of place, and that has a ripple effect throughout the rest of the day," said Lance Sherry, who runs the Centre for Air Transportation Systems Research at George Mason University.

The number of cancellations from Sandy was roughly on a par with other major storms that airlines had dealt with in the past. A major winter storm early last year resulted in 14,000 cancellations over four days.

Airlines faced a mammoth task in getting things back to normal after Sandy with workers having to clear rubbish and downed tree limbs from runways at JFK. Water was on the runway at LaGuardia, according to a letter from United Airlines chief executive, Jeff Smisek.

At one point, some airlines hoped to restart some New York flights by late on Tuesday, but that idea went out the window right along with the travel plans of their passengers. Some travellers figured they could do better the further away they got from the coast.

Wedding photographer Josh Saran was in Washington to shoot a wedding on Saturday.

His flight with Southwest airlines home to Seattle was cancelled, so he rented a car and headed toward Columbus, Ohio.

When snow closed the motorway, he turned his rented Chevy Aveo toward Pittsburgh to catch a US Airways flight.

"I have a really loving and smart girlfriend in Seattle that sits in front of a computer and calls the airlines and sees where I can go," he said.

Airline reservations systems are so complex that one department might cancel a flight even while a reservations worker is trying to shift a traveller onto that same flight, said Joe Brancatelli, a travel expert who runs a newsletter for business travellers. Travellers have no choice but to be patient, he said.

"Where are they gonna go? They hate United today, they go to Delta next week," he said.

"Delta screws them, they go to American, and then it's a big circle."