WASHINGTON – Major airlines canceled more than 2,000 flights and moved aircraft out of the path of Hurricane Isabel (search) on Thursday as its powerful winds severely disrupted air travel in the United States.
Airlines suspended flights at 19 airports in the Northeast, South and Midwest, the Federal Aviation Administration (search) said. Some travelers headed for one New York-area airport were held up for six hours.
Many cancellations also affected flights scheduled for Friday, and Isabel's impact could spill over into the weekend. Airlines removed planes from the rain-swept tarmac at Washington's Reagan-National Airport in the shadow of the capital.
As the leading winds and rains of Isabel moved into the region, flights at all three Washington-area airports were suspended late in the afternoon with plans to re-start sometime Friday, depending on weather conditions.
"The airlines are strategic about getting their planes out and then recouping their schedule. We (could) see ripple effects into Saturday," said Tara Hamilton, a spokeswoman for the authority that runs Reagan National and Dulles.
International arrivals and departures at Dulles airport, where United Airlines operates a hub, were also canceled, including British Airways service to and from London's Heathrow airport.
Baltimore-Washington International airport in Maryland, where Southwest Airlines (LUV) operates 156 daily flights, experienced numerous cancellations and delays.
About half of flights on the East Coast and about one-fifth of flights nationwide were canceled between 7 p.m. EDT Wednesday and 2 p.m. Thursday, according to David Stempler of the Air Travelers Association.
Leading winds from Isabel forced the air traffic control tower at Norfolk to close. "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.
The FAA diverted air traffic west of the storm but eastern routes were quieter than normal for a busy weekday because of the high volume of cancellations. Still there were some hang-ups that rippled to other areas.
Arrival delays at Philadelphia averaged 91 minutes and New York's LaGuardia airport averaged an hour. Some flights at LaGuardia were delayed by almost 11 because of heavy wind gusts that reduced runway operations.
The FAA said the total number of flights canceled topped 2,000 as of late Thursday. National air traffic headaches were also complicated by a series of thunderstorms in the Midwest causing delays in Minneapolis and Dallas-Fort Worth.
US Airways, which emerged from bankruptcy in March, canceled nearly 700 flights and will be the hardest hit major airline due to its high concentration of eastern routes.
Southwest canceled flights at Norfolk and BWI. American Airlines (AMR) canceled 150 flights and its commuter unit, American Eagle, has suspended some service. Northwest Airlines (NWAC) canceled 111 flights and moved planes as did Continental Airlines (CAL). United canceled 139 flights and Delta Air Lines (DAL) more than 200.
Isabel disrupted other transportation operations, including Washington's Metro subway and bus system which closed at 11 a.m. Federal government offices in the capital were closed, so demand for mass transit was limited.
Amtrak, the nation's only city-to-city passenger railroad, halted service south of Washington and East Coast service to Chicago.
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge in Maryland, a key route to coastal areas, was closed because of high winds.