Storm thwarts airline travelers bound for East Coast

STAFF WRITERAugust 27, 2011 

  • Airlines at Raleigh-Durham International Airport will make schedule changes based on weather conditions. Customers should check with their airline to verify the status of their flight before leaving for the airport.

    Many airlines have implemented their inclement weather policies and will change flight reservations without charge. A link to these pages can be found at rdu.com.

    Travelers also follow RDU at twitter.com/rduairport.

    Source: Raleigh-Durham International Airport

— Before Hurricane Irene made landfall in North Carolina on Saturday, the storm's impact was felt on the other side of the Atlantic.

As Irene's path was projected to creep up the East Coast, hundreds of international flights to East Coast airports were canceled, leaving thousands of U.S.-bound travelers struggling to find a way across the ocean.

New York-area airports were closed to domestic and international flights arriving after 12 p.m. Saturday, causing dozens of cancellations at Raleigh-Durham International Airport and other regional airports.

Delays and cancellations were expected to continue Sunday. JetBlue canceled most of its flights to and from Boston and New York's John F. Kennedy Airport. Delta canceled all Sunday flights originating in and bound for Newark, JFK and LaGuardia. U.S. Airways also canceled departures between RDU and Reagan National Airport and LaGuardia.

On Saturday, more than 100 travelers bound for JFK snaked along a wall in front of a Delta check-in booth at Keflavik International Airport, about 30 miles outside the capital city of Reyjavik.

Some passengers had only learned of Irene that day, waking to news of the cancellations as they tried to reach destinations that don't usually worry about hurricanes. Others had been tracking her path for days, trying to avoid long delays. Many waited in line for five hours or more as they tried to secure hotel vouchers or book flights that circumvented Irene.

Linda Ariail, 64, was hoping to return home to Arden, N.C., near Asheville, when she learned her 12 p.m. flight to JFK narrowly missed the 1 p.m. cutoff. She and her husband Jerry Ariail, 65, were surprised by the proactive cancellation in New York.

"It's not supposed to hit there until tomorrow," she said as she stood next to an overflowing luggage cart. "... We don't have a place to stay tomorrow. And we don't have a car. There's just no communication at all." After hours in line, they gave up and decided to try later.

Rob Franzese, 41, took the expensive route: He spent 60,000 frequent-flier miles and about $250 to book an earlier flight. When that flight was canceled, he shelled out another $750 to catch a flight to Minneapolis. From there, he planned to drive to his home in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Franzese, a University of Michigan professor who was in Iceland for a conference, said his wife would have to miss work if he wasn't back in time to care for their three young children. "If I don't make it home by Monday," he said, "there's a problem."

Necia Hobbes sat on the airport floor, pecking away at a laptop, trying to find an alternate flight to Pittsburgh, where she was to begin a new job as a law clerk on Monday. "I'd do anything to get out of this continent," said Hobbes, 30. Ultimately, she found a flight to Boston. She planned to drive to Pittsburgh from there.

Emily Tremaine, 26, needed to get to Arlington, Mass. The 11th-grade teacher was expecting to return before Monday for the new school year. Worst case scenario: She'd have to find a substitute for the first day of classes. As she awaited a new flight, she sat under a monitor with departure information and caught up on her journal. "I figured I'd have time today," she said. "But I didn't realize I'd have this much time."

Lynne Scoggins, 64, looked on the bright side: At least she wasn't in the hurricane. And there's a bonus, said the Greenville, S.C., social worker: "I'd rather be stuck in Keflavik than in New York."

jack.hagel@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8955

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