Volcanic ash kicked up from an eruption in Iceland is causing trouble for air travel here at home, as flights set to depart for European destinations are being grounded.
At least 100 U.S. flights had been canceled by early Thursday afternoon Eastern Daylight Time, according to David Castelveter, a spokesman for the Air Transportation Association, which represents most major U.S. carriers.
A spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates New York's three metro area airports, would not
comment on flights and the impact of the air space closure on individual airlines.
The route between New York and London is the second busiest in the world, behind the route between Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Most of the canceled U.S. flights were to the United Kingdom or from there, he said. Some airlines were also canceling flights scheduled for Friday, he said.
Volcanic eruptions rarely interrupt commercial air travel, but some large ash clouds high in the atmosphere have the potential to stall or shut down jet engines.
Tyrone Lowery, the front desk supervisor at the 360-room International JFK Airport Hotel in New York, said more than 150 guests had been affected by the flight cancellations.
"So far they're taking it," he said. "Some of them are disappointed."
He said most had booked one-night stays.
Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Laura Brown said the agency was working with airlines to reroute flights from the U.S. to Europe around the cloud when possible. Some flights en route were also returned to the U.S. late Wednesday and early Thursday or diverted from their intended destination to other Europe airports as closures mounted.
British Airways spokesman John Lampl said the airline had several flights out of the U.S. bound for Heathrow that were returned to their departure cities or forced to land elsewhere when London airports were closed.
That includes flights from Chicago, San Francisco, Denver, Las Vegas and New York. Some passengers were being put up in hotels.
Some flights made it out of the U.S. late last night, but more were being canceled Thursday morning.
"This will domino into every airline,'' Lampl said. "Everybody's in the same boat."
American Airlines canceled 21 flights that were scheduled to arrive at or depart from London after U.K. authorities closed the airspace, said airline spokesman Tim Smith. He said American was able to make six takeoffs and nine arrivals at Heathrow before the shutdown.
Smith said American flights to other points in Europe were not affected as of Thursday morning, Central time. He said passengers on the canceled U.K. flights were booked on later trips or given a refund.
Continental Airlines said it had canceled 32 flights by 10:30 a.m. Central time, mostly ones leaving from the airline's hub in Newark, N.J., plus a few from Houston.
Continental said it would let customers scheduled on flights through Sunday to about a dozen European destinations alter their plans without the usual change fee, or get a refund.
At the British Airways Terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport, William Phelps and family told a local radio station that they had decided to stay longer in New York after their flight to London's Heathrow Airport was canceled.
"It's the simplest thing for us,'' he said. As for his children, he said they were fine with the change in plans. "They love New York, so that's OK."
Officials advise passengers to call their individual airlines before leaving for the airport, no matter where you are heading.