Thousands of flights were grounded across the Northeast on Tuesday, but operations at Charlotte Douglas International Airport were getting back to normal as the number of cancellations fell and airlines prepared to resume their normal schedules.
The terminal was quiet Tuesday afternoon, with traffic light and only a handful of stranded travelers sprawled out on their bags. Airlines canceled nearly all flights to and from Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, the New York area and New England, shutting down the busiest air corridor in the country.
In total, airlines canceled nearly 6,500 flights nationally on Tuesday, with another 1,021 already scratched for Wednesday. And while there were no scenes of major chaos at Charlotte Douglas, those waiting for days to leave were certainly inconvenienced by Hurricane Sandy.
Sarah Arnold, 19, was trying to get from Florida back to school in Boston. She and her boyfriend arrived at Charlotte Douglas at around 6 a.m. Monday, and have been camped out there since.
“It’s getting better,” she said, sitting with her bags in the corner of the terminal lobby, outside security Checkpoint A. “We’re getting better at sleeping out here. People are being friendly. At least we have Starbucks.”
Flying US Airways, the couple were hopeful they would be able to get on a plane to Washington, D.C., and then on to Boston on Wednesday.
“I’m just hoping our next flight doesn’t get canceled too,” she said. They weren’t allowed to stay overnight in the secure part of the terminal, so they spent their time in Charlotte in the ticketing area, subsisting on food and drinks from Starbucks.
Charlotte is US Airways’ busiest hub, with more than 630 flights operated by the airline every day. That’s about 90 percent of the airport’s total.
System-wide, US Airways canceled more than 1,600 flights on Tuesday, the second day in a row the airline scrubbed more than half of its daily schedule. US Airways canceled a similar number of flights Monday. As of late Tuesday, US Airways had canceled 340 flights for Wednesday.
At Charlotte Douglas, however, US Airways only canceled 73 flights Tuesday, down from 125 the day before, spokeswoman Michelle Mohr said. A smattering of flights by American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and AirTran were canceled as well, but the overall number of cancellations at Charlotte Douglas was far lower than elsewhere.
According to FlightStats, Inc., Philadelphia – US Airways’ second-busiest hub – suffered the highest number of canceled flights Tuesday and into Wednesday, with 1,066 grounded. Newark (N.J.) Liberty International Airport was second, with 996 cancellations, and New York’s LaGuardia Airport was third, with 893.
US Airways plans to resume service to all airports Wednesday, except for LaGuardia, Newark and New York’s John F. Kennedy International, Mohr said.
Ninety aircraft taken out of service due to the storm were parked at Charlotte Douglas, waiting to proceed, said airport spokeswoman Lee Davis.
Some people apparently decided to drive to their final destination. Rental car outlets at the airport reported the effect of Sandy was similar to a major winter storm, with a slight uptick in walk-up customers requesting one-way rentals.
While much more of the air travel system will be up and running again Wednesday, there will likely still be delays and schedule changes. The airlines have to move crews and planes back into position, and work through the backlog of customers trying to get to their original destinations.
Travelers should check with their airline to see if their flights are still scheduled normally for the foreseeable future.
“We encourage our customers to continue checking their flight status at USAirways.com no matter where they are going since there could be delays or cancellations as a ripple effect from a storm of this magnitude,” said Mohr.