After Hurricane Irma struck Miami, the city’s largest airport is uncertain when it will be open to passengers. Josh King has the story (@abridgetoland).
A trickle of airline flights to South Florida were set to begin later Monday, but it would likely be many days until air service returned to normal in the region.
Several Delta flights were scheduled to operate Monday afternoon to a few Florida airports. But flights at Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando remained grounded Monday afternoon as officials assessed damage and worked on plans to restart service.
Flighs could resume Tuesday at Miami and Fort Lauderdale, though officials warned the restart of airline service would likely start slowly.
“Nobody wants to get planes in and out more than me,” Miami International Airport CEO Emilio González told USA TODAY’s Trevor Hughes in Miami. “But we can’t just flip a switch.”
González said a gradual reopening at the Miami airport would give airport, airline and security personnel time to return to their posts following a mandatory evacuation of the area. Airlines will decide for themselves how to restart their operations once the airport declares itself ready. (MORE: Irma snarling flights at five major airline hubs all at once)
A similar drill was underway at a number of other airports across the state.
“Damage assessment teams are standing by waiting for sustained winds to decrease to a safe level to ascertain what kind of damage the airport has (sustained) to that the recovery process can begin,” Orlando International said in a statement posted to Twitter.
Officials at Fort Lauderdale’s airport echoed that theme, adding that they hoped some flights could resume Tuesday.
“Staff is assessing damages and making necessary repairs. We are working closely with the airlines and our partners to open FLL as soon as we are ready to resume operations,” the airport said in a statement.
At other airports, flights may take longer to restart. In hard-hit Key West, for example, flights looked unlikely before Thursday. For the airport near Fort Myers, The Naples Daily News wrote “flights in and out of Southwest Florida International Airport are not expected to begin ramping up before Wednesday at the earliest, spokeswoman Victoria Moreland said.”
Even once Florida’s airports come back online, fliers should expect it to take day for schedules to return to normal. Cancellations also began to expand to the north, where more than 1,100 flights were canceled in Atlanta on Monday as Irma began to head that direction. (MORE: Irma’s next air travel target: The world’s busiest airport)
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Overall, at least a dozen airports had halted commercial flights because of Irma.
Already, the storm has had a severe impact on flight schedules in the region.
Airlines have canceled more than 14,000 flights since Irma first began affecting flight schedules in the Caribbean earlier this month, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware. The bulk of those have come in Florida, where 10,100 airline flights had been canceled since late last week, FlightAware said in an update from 3:30 p.m. ET.
Unfortunately for travelers, Irma’s impact on flights is likely not done yet. Current forecasts called for Irma to head inland, putting it on course to affect Atlanta – home to the world’s busiest airport – on Monday. For the first time ever, a tropical storm warning has been issued for the Georgia city.
TODAY IN THE SKY: Hurricane Irma: Heavy damage to one of the world’s most famous airports
Delta, which operates its busiest hub there, acknowledged the possibility of disruptions. The carrier urged customers ticketed to connect through Atlanta early this week to change their itineraries to connect through a different hub.
“Customers with itineraries involving Atlanta Monday afternoon through Tuesday are encouraged to use delta.com to change their travel plans,” Delta said in a statement on Sunday.
Delta’s advisory came as all big U.S. airlines have added flexible rebooking policies for Irma that cover travel through airports in Florida and the Southeast. In addition to Florida and Georgia, many of the various rebooking policies have grown to include airports in Alabama, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Fliers hoping to travel to the region next week should expect a slow and uneven recovery, though details will depend on exactly what Irma’s impact turns out to be. Beyond Florida, travelers to other parts of the Southeast should keep an eye on Irma’s precise track and check ahead on the status of their flights.
Contributing: Trevor Hughes from Miami
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