U.S. News

U.S. carriers cancel most European flights

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Nearly 84 percent of U.S. airlines’ flights to and from Europe were canceled on Saturday due to the volcanic ash cloud spewing from Iceland that has spread across Europe.

American Airlines Boeing 767-300 stands on tarmac in Reykjavik Keflavik International Airport April 13, 2010. REUTERS/Bjorn Malmquist

The huge cloud halted most European flights and stranded thousands of passengers as the Eyjafjallajokull volcano continued to erupt.

Commercial flights were not the only ones affected by the hazardous conditions. President Barack Obama canceled plans to fly to Poland for Sunday’s funeral of Polish President Lech Kaczynski.

American Airlines, a unit of AMR Corp, canceled 56 flights to and from Europe on Saturday, a spokeswoman said. The airline had also canceled 56 flights on Friday.

American was operating flights into and out of Spain and Italy on Saturday, while flights departing from or headed to other parts of Europe remain canceled, the spokeswoman said.

Each day, U.S.-based carriers operate about 337 passenger and cargo flights between the United States and Europe. On Saturday, 282 of those flights were canceled, according to the Air Transport Association of America.

U.S. airlines alerted passengers that many flights would not take off and suggested that travelers try to rebook online to avoid lengthy delays at airports and over their phone systems.

Representatives for Continental Airlines Inc, Delta Air Lines Inc and United Airlines, a unit of UAL Corp, could not be immediately reached for comment on Saturday.

Shipping company FedEx Corp said more than 100 FedEx Express flights headed to Europe were rerouted, diverted or canceled within the last 72 hours and it was trucking shipments within Europe.

United Parcel Service Inc, or UPS, also said it has shifted European deliveries to ground. Its main European air hub in Cologne, Germany, has been closed since about 2 a.m. local time on Friday.

U.S. carriers have not yet said what kind of financial impact the flight cancellations may have.

But the International Air Transport Association said on Friday that airlines were losing more than $200 million per day in revenue. That estimate does not include other costs such as rerouting airplanes.

For now, U.S. airlines are not charging passengers to make changes to their travel plans.

Additional reporting by Helen Chernikoff; Editing by Eric Beech