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Isabel Halts Airline, Train Travel

September 19, 2003|James F. Peltz | Times Staff Writer

Thousands of travelers were grounded Thursday when U.S. and foreign airlines canceled more than 2,000 flights and mid-Atlantic airports were closed because of Hurricane Isabel.

Amtrak also suspended rail service between Washington, D.C., and Florida through today, and canceled some trains between Washington and New York.

Shipping companies such as United Parcel Service Inc. and FedEx Corp. said their ground and air deliveries also were disrupted as the hurricane -- with winds topping 100 mph -- came ashore.

Along the coastal areas of North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland, "we ceased making deliveries or pickups," said UPS spokesman Norman Black.

One of the first places Isabel landed was Kitty Hawk on the eastern tip of North Carolina, which is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers' first airplane flight. But no one was flying in the region Thursday. Airports in Washington, Raleigh, N.C., and Richmond, Va., were closed along with more than a dozen others. Traffic in and out of other Northeast airports, such as New York's LaGuardia, suffered delays lasting several hours.

The cancellations and delays reached to Los Angeles International Airport, where more than a dozen nonstop flights between LAX and Washington were canceled by United, American and others. JetBlue Airways also canceled a flight between Washington Dulles International Airport and Long Beach Airport.

The airlines said they hoped to resume normal schedules this afternoon, but cautioned that their recovery would depend on how quickly the hurricane dissipated and any damage it left behind, especially to airports and nearby roads.

It was the second time in as many months that the nation's transportation system has had to cope with a huge, albeit temporary, setback. On Aug. 14, an electrical failure knocked out power in much of the Northeast and upper Midwest, forcing airlines to scratch hundreds of flights. And as they did during the blackout, most airlines waived their normal change-of-plan fees for travelers disrupted by Isabel.

With the hurricane, however, the airlines had several days to prepare as they watched Isabel churning toward the East Coast, and most already had moved their jetliners out of harm's way.

"We're not leaving airplanes on the ground where the hurricane's path is located," said David Castelveter, a spokesman for US Airways, which has a major presence in the mid-Atlantic region.

US Airways canceled more than 700 flights -- about 20% of its total service -- scheduled for Thursday and this morning. The carrier's operations were suspended at Washington Reagan, Dulles and Baltimore/Washington international airports, and US Airways personnel evacuated the airline's Arlington, Va., headquarters Thursday afternoon, Castelveter said.

Southwest Airlines also suspended service at Baltimore/Washington, Raleigh-Durham and Norfolk, Va., international airports until this morning at the earliest. Delta, Northwest, Continental and foreign carriers, including British Airways, also canceled flights.

The Federal Aviation Administration evacuated its air traffic control tower in Newport News, Va., and closed towers at other airports in Virginia and North Carolina.

"Basically, if an airport has winds of more than 50 miles per hour, you are not going to be operating aircraft," said FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown.

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Times wire services contributed to this report.

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