PBIA unusually quiet as Irene cancels nearly half of departures

A lot of people along the U.S. east coast spent this weekend weathering Hurricane Irene.

What they didn't do is come to Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast. And many won't be doing it Monday either.

With flights from the Northeast not expected to resume before Monday morning, it will be a while before volume returns to normal, and longer before officials know the extent of lost business.

The FlightAware flight tracking service said that as of this afternoon, Irene's assault had canceled nearly 12,000 flights nationwide, affecting some 650,000 travelers.

Canceled flights in and out of Philadelphia and the New York area turned Palm Beach International Airport quiet.

A check this morning showed nearly half the day's departures had been called off. The scene was no better at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, where 44 arrivals and 48 departures had been canceled as of 9:30 a.m.

And a 6 p.m. snapshot showed at least 11 of 26 arrivals and at least four of 20 departures had been canceled; all were to either Washington, Philadelphia, Boston or the New York area.

The number actually is higher; several flights this evening to New York area airports showed "on time" even though the airports were still closed. Travelers were urged to contact their airlines.

This morning, parking decks were perhaps one-quarter full, and employees appeared to outnumber travelers inside.

Two men in white airport uniforms watched television alone in a long lounge. A handful of passengers sat at two airport restaurants.

Betty Sussman, an airport ambassador volunteer, said she hadn't greeted any confused passengers.

"They all knew to check" for cancellations, said Sussman, of Boynton Beach. "Nobody is surprised."

It wasn't just air visitors.

"A lot of the traffic, we found, during the summer months is driving traffic; people coming by car from either the north or other locations in Florida," West Palm Beach Commissioner Bill Moss, who's vice chair of the Palm Beach County Tourist Development Council board, said Sunday.

"The test will be this long weekend, the Labor Day weekend," Moss said.

And there actually might be a silver lining.

Many people likely extended stays rather than return to a sloppy mess, while others were able to get out before conditions deteriorated, said James Bronstien of Marine Business Advisors in North Palm Beach, who also sits on the council board.

"I'm not sure it didn't cancel itself out," Bronstien said today. "I know Northeast people fled here once it was safe here. And people from the Caribbean came over here to get out of the storm when it was there."

Today, airlines canceled all flights to and from the New York and Boston airports. Airports reopened further south, including in Washington, Philadelphia and Richmond, Va., but airlines canceled hundreds of Monday morning flights to New York and Boston airports.

Greyhound scrubbed bus travel between Washington and New York, and cruise lines changed some of their itineraries as the storm made its way from the Bahamas to Boston.

Amtrak said trains from New York to Florida will be canceled Monday, as will the Auto Train between Lorton, Va., and Sanford, Fla.

Information from the Associated Press supplemented this story.


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