October 29, 2012

Sandy halts some travel from Charlotte

Charlotte became a haven in the storm Monday, with a growing number of travelers finding themselves unable to leave the area for destinations to the north.

Charlotte became a haven in the storm Monday, with a growing number of travelers finding themselves unable to leave the area for destinations to the north.

Hurricane Sandy’s approach to landfall along the New Jersey coast caused at least 19 airports to shut down operations Monday, and rail service to major cities in the Northeast also has been halted.

It means travelers -- those planning to leave Charlotte for the north, and those who are stranded here because connecting flights are canceled -- might not be going anywhere for a few days.

The flight-tracking service Flight Aware reported late Monday morning that more than 7,000 U.S. flights have been canceled Monday, including 139 scheduled to depart from Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. More than 2,700 flights already are canceled Tuesday, including 46 from Charlotte. That number is expected to increase dramatically in the coming hours.

One traveler stuck at Charlotte’s airport, Quentin Walker of New York, said Monday morning, “They tell me it could be Wednesday before we’re able to fly.”

In addition, Amtrak announced that all rail service north of Raleigh has been canceled through at least Tuesday.

As of late Monday morning, these airports that are typical destinations from Charlotte are shut down:

-- Allentown

-- Baltimore-DC area (Baltimore-Washington International, Dulles, Washington National)

-- Boston

-- Charlottesville

-- Hartford

-- Huntington, W. Va.

-- Newport News

-- New York City area (LaGuardia, Newark, JFK, Westchester County)

-- Norfolk

-- Philadelphia

-- Richmond

-- Wilkes-Barre

In addition, airports in Cleveland and Pittsburgh might be forced to shut down operations, with strong winds expected in those areas Tuesday.

US Airways is trying to help travelers by waiving its rebooking fee. It is permitting passengers who cancel flights before Wednesday night to rebook them without a fee, provided the rescheduled flight takes place during the first week of November.

The cancellations in the storm-threatened area are having a ripple effect. They are forcing delays and cancellations around the world, with airlines not able to fly into major eastern U.S. cities.

The schedule changes are making life difficult for travelers, of course.

Eileen Merberg, 50, told the Associated Press she was scheduled to fly from Rochester, N.Y., to New Orleans for an education conference, with a connection in Washington. She said United Airlines sent her an email, saying the Washington flight was canceled, and she was rebooked on a connecting flight through Newark. An hour later, she was informed that the Newark flight was canceled.

So Merberg contacted the education conference and said she couldn’t attend. But then United sent her a note, saying she had been rebooked through Chicago, according to the Associated Press.

She tried calling United but was on hold for 62 minutes until her phone battery died. She recharged the battery and was on hold another 45 minutes before getting a recording, telling her it would be at least another hour before a customer service employee was available.

She hung up, she told the AP.


Amtrak announced a number of changes to its service because of the big storm.

The Crescent runs (Trains 19 and 20) are canceled until at least Wednesday. The Piedmont routes (Trains 73, 74 and 75) are running between Charlotte and Raleigh but not going any farther north.

The Palmetto runs (Trains 89 and 90) also are canceled. And Trains 91 and 92, which begin in Miami, are traveling only as far north as Jacksonville, Fla.

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