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After Isabel, Airlines Aim to Get Normal Flights Off the Ground

September 20, 2003|James F. Peltz | Times Staff Writer

U.S. airlines hope to resume normal operations on the East Coast this morning after air traffic was disrupted Thursday and Friday by Hurricane Isabel.

The number of canceled flights and stranded passengers dropped sharply Friday after more than a dozen airports reopened, including those in Washington, Baltimore and Raleigh, N.C.

The ripple effect of the cancellations disrupted travel across the country, but cancellations and delays at other major airports -- including Los Angeles International Airport -- dissipated by Friday afternoon.

"We have restored operations to all airports," said David Castelveter, a spokesman for US Airways, a prominent carrier in the mid-Atlantic region. "We should be operating a full schedule by Saturday morning."

US Airways, which canceled more than 700 flights Thursday, reported about 200 cancellations Friday. Some other carriers, such as American and United, canceled Friday morning flights from Washington Dulles International to LAX, but later flights to Los Angeles departed as scheduled.

Amtrak, meanwhile, resumed full rail service between Washington, Philadelphia, New York and Boston on Friday. Amtrak said that today it would also resume limited service south of Washington -- service that was halted Thursday and Friday as Isabel came ashore.

But the ability of Amtrak and freight railroads to restore service in the mid-Atlantic region was hampered by power outages that disabled crossing gates in some areas, said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari. Trains had to come nearly to a stop as crews jumped off with flares to warn approaching vehicles, he said.

There were other isolated problems. The airport in Norfolk, Va., didn't reopen until Friday afternoon because it lacked electricity, forcing Southwest Airlines and other carriers to cancel more than a dozen additional flights.

"We're also having to use stairs rather than jetways" to move travelers on and off aircraft in Norfolk, said Southwest spokeswoman Whitney Eichinger.

Delays stretched up to two hours in Newark, N.J., but interruptions were much shorter at the other major New York airports, Kennedy and LaGuardia, said Tony Ciavolella, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Overall, U.S. and foreign airlines canceled fewer than 1,000 flights Friday as the sun came out, crews mopped up flooded runways and carriers flew their jetliners back into the areas hit by Isabel. They had moved the planes to inland cities as the hurricane approached.

Isabel forced the airlines to cancel more than 2,000 flights Thursday. Air travel all but shuts down if winds top 50 mph.

"The airlines are trying to move equipment back where they need them," said Laura Brown, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration. "That repositioning will take a little bit of time."

Airlines said they were still calculating the cost of Isabel, but at least one analyst, Sam Buttrick of the investment firm UBS Warburg in New York, said it "won't have a material impact" on the carriers' financial results.

The hurricane's stay was brief and the "impact [on the airlines] was relatively confined to a couple of large East Coast markets," Buttrick said.

Bloomberg News contributed to this report.

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