The scene at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport Tuesday morning.
Photo: KELLY YAMANOUCHI/kyamanouchi@ajc.com
Photo: KELLY YAMANOUCHI/kyamanouchi@ajc.com

Most flights grounded in advance at Hartsfield-Jackson

Atlanta’s two biggest airlines have canceled most of their flights in and out of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport Wednesday.

Delta Air Lines canceled more than 1,500 flights — about two-thirds of the carrier’s total schedule at its massive hometown hub — while Southwest Airlines and its AirTran Airways subsidiary called off nearly all of their roughly 300 daily departures or arrivals.

Both carriers are allowing affected travelers to reschedule without the usual fees, though they might need patience. Some encountered hold times as long as four hours on Delta’s customer service phone lines on Tuesday. In many cases rebookings can be done online.

The massive wave of cancellations will disrupt travel for tens of thousands of travelers around the country, given Atlanta’s importance as a connecting point.

Even with the massive cancellations aimed at keeping people away from the airport, Hartsfield-Jackson is gearing up to handle stranded fliers.

The airport has overnight kits with toiletries and blankets to distribute to customers, along with coloring books and crayons for children.

Hartsfield-Jackson officials say certain restaurants will be open 24 hours in the main terminals and all concourses, and restaurants and shops have stocked up with extra supplies.

“We’ve already gone to the warehouse and gotten everything,” said Royce Pittman, general manager for airport concessionaire Paradies. He said during the storm two weeks ago, shops ran short of toiletries and personal products, blankets and pillows and other items, so the company pulled extra supplies of those items from its warehouse.

“We are well prepared,” Pittman said.

Airport officials planned to pre-treat runways, taxiway and roads on Tuesday night, and have said they intend to keep Hartsfield-Jackson open through the storm. The airport has 11 de-icing pads, though construction is not yet complete on another nine planned after the 2011 ice storm.

“Any time we’ve had inclement weather, the airport is able to stay open and operating. That’s certainly our intent,” Hartsfield-Jackson spokesman Reese McCranie said.

Airlines, concessionaires and the airport have booked hotel rooms around Hartsfield-Jackson for essential workers and set up cots for workers to sleep at the airport.

Wait lines at security checkpoints will depend on the condition of the roads, which affects staffing. During the storm two weeks ago, wait times at security checkpoints were in some cases more than an hour long because workers could not reach the airport.

Delta canceled 573 flights Tuesday as the storm approached. Travelers whose flights are canceled get notifications if their contact information is in their reservation, Delta said.

Delta advised travelers to check flight status updates if they have not received a notice.

Southwest said the only flights they may operate Wednesday are some of their final evening arrivals, depending on conditions.

At Hartsfield-Jackson on Tuesday, Rene Kamstra prepared to fly to Austin for a work trip. During the storm two weeks ago, her flight to Orlando was canceled and she ended up driving instead.

This week, “I was really worried,” Kamstra said. But she managed to get a flight out before the bad weather hit.

“I’m really happy,” she said as she prepared to head to her gate. “I’m so happy.”

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