Hurricane Sandy's Flight Cancellation Toll Tops 20,000

 - November 5, 2012, 10:00 AM
Floodwaters swamp a terminal at New York’s LaGuardia Airport, which closed following Hurricane Sandy. (Photo: JetBlue Airways)

Hurricane Sandy closed the major New York City metropolitan area airports and forced the cancellation of more than 20,000 flights as it swept the Northeast region of the U.S. last week, leaving widespread flooding in its wake. The Category 1 hurricane, combined with cold fronts from the north and west, also disrupted operations at airports in Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Other airports nationwide and internationally felt the ripple effect of the cancellations.

The storm and its aftermath hit hardest in and around New York City, epicenter of the world’s busiest airspace. Airlines there ceased operations on the evening of October 28 as Sandy approached. Over the next two days, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey closed LaGuardia, John F. Kennedy International, Newark Liberty International and Teterboro airports. “All major airports serving the metro area are closed today,” New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg remarked on October 30. “Runways are flooded and there are no flights leaving or arriving. How much damage was done to the navigation equipment and lighting around them we don’t know yet.” LaGuardia Airport, with waterfront on Bowery Bay and Flushing Bay in the borough of Queens, was the last of the metropolitan New York airports to reopen, on November 1.

Each day, one third of U.S. air traffic passes through the airspace that serves the New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia metropolitan areas, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Even routine delays at airports in the region result in significant nationwide interruptions. Travel information site reported that Sandy forced the cancellation of 20,055 total flights in North America from October 27 through November 1. Among major carriers, FlightStats said United Airlines had canceled 2,107 flights during that period; JetBlue Airways, 1,469; US Airways, 1,452; Southwest Airlines, 1,435; Delta Air Lines, 1,293; and American Airlines, 750. The storm delayed thousands of other flights. Most airlines waived rebooking fees and offered refunds.

Although the resulting economic effect on the airlines remained uncertain, early estimates of the total damage from Hurricane Sandy stood at around $20 billion. Combined with the idling of 70 percent of East Coast oil refineries and other commercial disruptions because of the storm, overall economic losses could range from $30 billion to $50 billion, according to IHS Global Insight.