Nearly 1,600 Flights Still Not Operating in New York Area as Airlines Recover from Irene

U.S. airlines are resuming services to and from New York City area today after Irene, downgraded to a tropical storm as it made its way North, forced evacuations all over the region and shut down major airports. More than 11,200 flights were cancelled.

United Continental Holdings (NYSE:UAL), Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL), and American Airlines (NYSE:AMR) all said they would restart operations at midday, with many stranded passengers now on their way home. Southwest Airlines Co. (NYSE:LUV), US Airways Group, and JetBlue (NASDAQ:JBLU) all planned to resume flying in the region today as well.

Extra costs to airlines of canceled flights could be in the millions of dollars, but because airlines flew jets out of Irene’s path ahead of the storm, preemptively canceling flights, they may have avoided millions more in damages, according to Helene Becker, a Dahlman Rose & Co. analyst. “We estimate this to be equivalent to a snowstorm,” said Becker, as airlines often take the same measures when a blizzard is forecast in order to keep planes from being stranded. Though no carrier has yet to report any major damage, JetBlue CEO Dave Barger said today in an interview on CNBC that, “There’s no doubt there was a revenue impact and, in fact, it’s probably in the mid-teens in terms of millions of dollars.”

While major airlines are resuming operations, more than 1,600 flights across the nation’s six largest carriers won’t operate today as planes and crew members are repositioned. That’s about 5.16% of the industry’s average of roughly 31,000 flights on a typical Monday during the summer travel season. Total cancellations between Saturday, August 27 through today are at least 11,216. Nearly 20,000 flights were canceled in the week ending February 4 of this year when Chicago was buried feet deep in snow.

As J.F.K., LaGuardia, and Newark all re-opened today, delays at the airports were 15 minutes or less. And as the nation’s three largest airline companies are all based in the New York area, many will be looking to the region as an example of how to get back on track and resume operations after the storm. The world’s largest carrier, United Continental, has a hub for its Continental unit at New Jersey’s Newark Liberty airport. Delta and American have hubs at J.F.K. and LaGuardia. With roughly 104 million passengers using the three airports last year, the area is the busiest aviation market in the country.

Aside from losses incurred from canceling flights, many airlines witnessed some rain and wind damage. American Airlines’ terminal in Norfolk, Virginia, had some flooding, while Delta and US Airways reported leaky roofs at some of their facilities. Southwest had water damage to a jetway in Albany, New York. Still, significant damages were avoided by the government and port authorities, who were well prepared and took the right steps to minimize the storm’s impact as much as possible.

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