Last update 4:50 p.m. ET on Thursday, Sept. 13. Next update: Thursday, by 11 p.m. ET.
Flight schedules ground to a halt along the coast of the Carolinas and cancellations threatened to spell inland as Hurricane Florence continued its trek toward the U.S. Southeast.
Most of the coastal region’s airports were closed to flights Thursday, with service not expected to resume until Saturday, at the earliest. That included the busy Charleston and Myrtle Beach airports in South Carolina and Wilmington in North Carolina.
Nationwide, more than 1,785 flights have been canceled from Wednesday through Saturday, flight-tracking service FlightAware counted as of 4:50 p.m. ET on Thursday.
Nearly all of those were tied to disruptions in the Carolinas, where Florence was now expected to come onshore between Myrtle Beach and Wilmington as the storm’s track continued to shift.
On Thursday alone, airlines had grounded more than 630 flights – many of them made pre-emptively ahead of expected operations shutdowns at the region’s airports. Another 682 flights were already canceled for Friday and 182 more for Saturday. Those figures had inched up throughout the day Thursday.
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Aside from the bigger airports in Charleston, Wilmington and Myrtle Beach, the cancellations also were spread across smaller cities in the Carolinas where operations had been suspended, airports such as New Bern, Jacksonville and Fayetteville.
There also were hundreds of cancellations at Charlotte, a major hub for American Airlines. However, many of those were cancellations by regional affiliates that fly between Charlotte and smaller airports along the coast. By Thursday evening, American said it had canceled 820 total flights – including its regional affiliates – from Wednesday through Sunday.
Other cancellations at Charlotte came from Southwest, which will suspend its schedule there as of “midday” Thursday through “early Saturday morning. Southwest – the USA’s biggest low-cost airline – also had suspended its entire schedule because of Florence at several other airports, including Raleigh/Durham in North Carolina and Richmond and Norfolk in Virginia.
Every big airline flying to the region had waived fees and rebooking rules – with some fine print – for travelers looking to adjust their plans because of Florence.
For now, the total of 1,785 cancellations remained a relatively modest total – at least compared to other tropical systems that have snarled U.S. flights in recent years. But there was potential for more cancellations depending on Florence’s exact track, which so far has been hard to pin down.
But, it appeared like the scope of Florence’s flight disruptions might be relatively contained.
“These continue to be relatively small numbers and we do expect them to continue to rise,” FlightAware spokeswoman Sara Orsi said in a statement. “However, the limited number of hubs being impacted by Florence will likely limit the scale of disruption that cascades through the national air travel system. Most of the airports in the storm’s path are smaller, coastal airports.”
But, she said flyers should keep an eye on where Florence goes next.
“Once the storm moves further inland to Atlanta and Charlotte, the biggest issue will be rain and thunderstorms,” she said.
Long lines of thunderstorms – such as the ones expected to swirl around Florence – can snarl flights along the Eastern Seaboard even during normal summer weather patterns.
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