U.S. airlines move planes; airports prep for Irene

Fri Aug 26, 2011 1:39pm EDT

* JetBlue cuts nearly 900 flights, moves 50 planes

* Airlines move supplies to terminals in case of damage

* NY Islip's MacArthur airport takes on area equipment

* Airline shares rise

By Lynn Adler

NEW YORK, Aug 26 (Reuters) - U.S. airlines have cut at least 1,000 flights and are moving airplanes out of the anticipated path of Hurricane Irene, while airports are taking steps to minimize damage from the storm.

AMR Corp's AMR.N American Airlines is "battening the hatches at our airport operations," said spokesman Ed Martelle.

"We are laying in supplies, things like tarps to throw over computers and electronics should we shut down the terminals, and plywood so that if there is any glass damage we can move quickly to secure those areas," he said.

The airline has terminals in New York and other cities that the hurricane may hit.

Tropical storm winds are expected to hit North Carolina on Friday afternoon and stretch to New England over the weekend, causing massive power outages and flooding. (For other Reuters coverage, click [ID:nN180088]).

American has canceled more than 130 flights on Thursday and Friday as the storm moves north, and that number could increase, Martelle said.

It is shutting down its Washington operations for 24 hours starting noon on Saturday and will probably make a decision about New York area airports later on Friday.

Flights are still full due to busy summer travel, making rescheduling more complicated, Martelle said.

Crews at Reagan National airport in Washington worked on Friday to secure ground equipment and make other storm preparations.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees air traffic control operations, has made no decision to close any airport towers.

There were few delayed flights on Friday in the mid-Atlantic and the Northeast, where U.S. air traffic is heaviest.

JetBlue Airways (JBLU.O) was the first airline to cancel a significant number of flights, nearly 900.

The airline, which is based out of New York's JFK Airport, is canceling all flights scheduled for Sunday into Monday while adding extra sections on Saturday night and Monday night, said spokeswoman Allison Steinberg.

In the Northeast, JetBlue is moving about 50 aircraft out of New York and Boston area airports to cities outside the expected path of the hurricane.

"We anticipate ... that we'll be able to recover more quickly with those aircraft and crews repositioned," Steinberg said.

Other airlines are canceling flights in the Carolinas and in Virginia.

Several carriers, including Delta Air Lines (DAL.N), said they were holding meetings and would announce more detailed plans during the afternoon.

Delta canceled two round trip flights on Thursday, spokesman Eric Torbenson said. Like most airlines, it offered customers in affected areas a fee waiver on changes or cancellations.

Long Island MacArthur Airport along the Atlantic coastline in New York is taking "every precaution," Commissioner of Aviation Teresa Rizzuto said.

The airport in the town of Islip sits on 1,311 acres, about twice that of LaGuardia Airport.

"It does look like it's going right to the town of Islip ... a tidal surge will really hurt" surrounding areas, Rizzuto said. But other airports and towns in Suffolk County are storing equipment and placing emergency vehicles at MacArthur because it is 99 feet above sea level and relatively protected from flooding, she added.

The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey said late on Thursday that airports would remain open. At its five airports, hundreds of heavy-duty vehicles are available, as well as dozens of police vehicles and rescue equipment.

The Arca Airline index .XAL was up 1.3 percent in afternoon trading. (Additional reporting by John Crawley in Washington; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

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