Hurricane Florence: Airline flight cancellations soar past 2,400

Last update: 9:55 p.M. ET on Friday, Sept. 14.

SATURDAY UPDATE: Flights remained grounded at most airports along coast of the Carolinas Saturday morning as the remnants of Hurricane Florence continued to spin over the region. Nationwide, more than 2,500 flights had been canceled since Wednesday, with preemptive cancellations now extending through Monday. (See Saturday’s full update).

LAST UPDATE FROM FRIDAY: Flights were grounded along the coast of the Carolinas Friday as Hurricane Florence moved ashore, though it appeared that the storm might not deliver as devastating a blow to national airline schedules as first feared.

Nationwide, about 2,400 flights had been canceled from Wednesday through Sunday, flight-tracking service FlightAware counted as of 9:55 p.M. EDT on Friday. Of those, 893 were for Friday alone with another 443 already canceled for Saturday and 154 for Sunday.

Nearly all of those were tied to disruptions in the Carolinas, where Florence was expected to weaken and move inland during the weekend.

More:Hurricane Florence: Full list of fee waivers at U.S. Airlines.

At least 11 airports in the region were either closed or had halted all flights Friday. That included the region’s busy airports in Charleston and Myrtle Beach in South Carolina and Wilmington in North Carolina, but most of the others were small regional airports with modest flight schedules.

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The bigger airports could see flights resume by Saturday afternoon or Sunday if they are not damaged by the storm, but it may take longer for the smaller airports to come back online.

Still, it appeared as though the storm’s impact on flight schedules may not cascade outside the region as bad as originally feared.

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So far, the region’s busiest bases – Charlotte, Raleigh/Durham and nearby Atlanta – had largely escaped cancellations except on operations to the hard-hit coastal airports. If that trend continues, airlines should largely be able to keep cancellations from spilling over onto routes outside the region.

“We don’t anticipate closures at any East Coast hubs … Which will limit cascading disruption to the rest of the nation’s airport system,” FlightAware spokeswoman Sara Orsi said in a statement.

And while the 2,400-plus cancellations from Florence is significant, it’s far below what fliers have faced in other major storms.

“For context, we typically see 1-2 snow storms per year that net between 3,000 and 5,000 cancellations each” for flights in the United States, Orsi said. “Super storm Sandy resulted in 20,000 cancellations to/from the New England region and there were 11,000 flights cancelled to/from Houston during Hurricane Harvey.”.

The threat was not over, however. As Florence moved inland, it was expected to pass near enough to bring winds of up to 40 mph to Charlotte, a major hub airport. What’s left of Florence also could bring long lines of thunderstorms to the area as it moves through, threatening to create pop-up delays and cancellations in the same way typical summer storms can snarl air travel.

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So far, Southwest — usually among the most cautious of airlines during storms — had grounded all of its Charlotte flights from midday Tuesday through Saturday morning. But American, which its second-busiest hub at Charlotte, said Friday afternoon that it expected no major cancellations there aside from those going to the region’s coastal airports.

Florence-spawned thunderstorms also could affect Atlanta – the world’s busiest airport – if its remnants moved close enough to block flight paths there. For now, that did not appear likely – though Florence’s track has proved difficult to pinpoint with precision.

Every big airline flying to the region had waived fees and rebooking rules – with some fine print – for travelers looking to adjust their plans because of Florence.

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