More travel chaos loomed for fliers in Texas as Harvey’s remnants wreaked havoc on flight schedules for a fourth day in a row Tuesday.
Even before midnight on Monday, airlines had preemptively grounded more than 1,400 flights for Tuesday, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware. Nearly all of those were a direct result of Harvey and its continuing impact on airports in Texas and Louisiana. Even for Wednesday, more than 1,350 flights had already been canceled by Monday night and nearly 100 more for Thursday.
Airlines extended change-fee waivers amid the mounting Harvey-related flight disruptions. More than 7,500 flights have now been canceled across the nation since Friday, with nearly all of that total attributable to Harvey.
Against that backdrop, both of Houston’s busy airports remained closed for yet another day on Tuesday, and it remained uncertain when flights might resume. Harvey was expected to lash the region with rain for the fifth consecutive day on Tuesday, dousing areas that have already been hit with rain measured by the foot.
The Houston airports are key cogs in the U.S. aviation system. Bush Intercontinental Airport is the second-busiest hub for United and is served by a long list of other domestic and foreign airlines. Hobby airport is one of the top airports for Southwest, the USA’s biggest low-cost carrier.
Flights have now been suspended at both of the airports since early Sunday. The Federal Aviation Administration’s website suggested flights at Hobby could resume as soon as Wednesday morning, but there was no guarantee that would happen. At Bush Intercontinental, it appeared that midday Thursday would be the earliest that flights might resume, though — again — it wouldn’t be a surprise if the closure dragged into another day.
For now, United, Southwest and the other airlines that fly from Houston’s airports continued to extend flexible rebooking policies for customers ticketed to fly through the airports. United and Southwest also warned customers against coming to either of the Houston airports prematurely, citing the dangerous flood conditions affecting roads and neighborhoods near each of the airfields.
Underscoring the severity of conditions on the ground, at least four airlines – Southwest, United, Delta and Frontier – received permission to fly rescue flights from Houston to help about 1,000 passengers escape the marooned airports, where access roads were blocked by floodwaters. Those special airlift flights operated to airports in Chicago, Detroit and Dallas, allowing those fliers to finally find other flights to their ultimate destinations.
At least one other airport in the region – the Jack Brooks Regional Airport near Beaumont – remained closed overnight into Tuesday, though it was possible flights might start flying again in the morning.
Elsewhere, flights resumed at the Corpus Christi and Harlingen airports as those two south Texas airports tried to get back to normal schedules.
Still, flight disruptions were certain to linger across the region for much of the week. Even when flights resume at the two Houston airports, fliers should expect it will take days for operations to return to normal.
Additional delays and disruptions were possible at other airports across the region as Harvey was forecast to start a slow turn toward Louisiana. That was expected to bring poor weather to airports in places like New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Shreveport and Lake Charles, among others.
And in an improbable turn for air travelers, airlines also began issuing flexible rebooking waivers for coastal airports from north Florida through the Carolinas and into Virginia because of a potential tropical storm that churned off the coast there. It would be called Irma if it strengthens to the level of tropical storm.
American, Delta, and United were among the airlines waiving change fees for flights to airports in cities such as Charleston, S.C.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Richmond, Va.; and Wilmington, N.C.
Fortunately for travelers, current forecasts suggested that the East Coast storm would have only a limited effect on flights there. (USA Today)