As Hurricane Sandy made its leisurely but threatening trip up the East Coast, airlines canceled thousands of flights, moved planes to safer ground and began offering refunds to stranded travelers.
By Sunday evening, more than 6,800 flights scheduled for Sunday and Monday had been canceled, according to travel monitoring site FlightAware.com.
In New York City, most airlines planned to cancel all flights into and out of the three major airports Sunday night and not resume service until Tuesday.
Most carriers were also suspending all flights into and out of Philadelphia as well as Washington's Reagan National and Dulles International airports.
United canceled 3,700 flights scheduled from Sunday through Wednesday -- 16% of its trips systemwide -- said airline spokesman Rahsaan Johnson. Some Sunday flights were canceled to help keep air traffic moving in parts of the country that weren't in the storm's path.
"We want to ensure we get airplanes out of the path of the storm to minimize disruption for customers outside the region,'' Johnson said. "We don't want to inconvenience customers flying from, say, Los Angeles to San Francisco, because their airplane is stuck on the East Coast.''
United planned to end all flights into and out of New York's three major airports, as well as Philadelphia, between 6 and 7 p.m. Sunday, with service expected to resume Tuesday evening. There will be no United flights to and from Washington on Monday. Smaller regional airports in the storm's path, from Charleston, W.Va., to Portland, Maine, will also see some or all flights canceled Monday and early Tuesday.
Delta said it would cancel all flights into and out of the New York area, as well as Philadelphia, on Sunday night. The airline also expected to suspend service Monday morning at roughly a dozen airports from Washington to Boston, with service expected to start again on Tuesday.
US Airways canceled all flights at New York's major airports Sunday evening through Monday. It suspended all service into and out of Philadelphia and Washington's Reagan National Airport on Monday.
American Airlines and its regional carrier American Eagle canceled 140 flights on Sunday and another 1,431 flights scheduled for Monday through Wednesday in cities throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. "The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy may force some additional delays and cancellations of scheduled flights to the region,'' spokesman Kent Powell said.
Most airlines are waiving fees for passengers who want to reschedule their trips. United said that it would also give refunds to passengers whose flights were canceled or delayed more than two hours. Southwest is offering refunds for canceled flights into and out of several cities, including Baltimore and Hartford.
Some passengers were reporting waits as long as two hours as they tried to rebook. Airlines were encouraging passengers to use their websites. United's Johnson said for those who don't need to take a canceled trip after all, it might be best to wait a few days before calling.
"Call volumes are up, which leads to longer wait times,'' Johnson said. "Those travelers whose flights are canceled and who no longer need to travel can delay calling us and apply for a refund after the storm has passed. That can help to reduce overall volume and wait times for customers who do need to rebook."
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