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Isaac leads airlines to cancel New Orleans flights

NEW YORK (AP) — Airlines are cancelling New Orleans flights in anticipation of hurricane winds and rain from Isaac.

All airlines were to stop flying at the end of Monday’s schedule, and no flights were scheduled Tuesday, a brief news release from Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport said.

The move comes after large cancellations in southern Florida on Sunday due to Tropical Storm Isaac.

The storm over the Gulf of Mexico was expected to grow into a Category 1 hurricane, with winds of 74 mph to 95 mph, and hit land late Tuesday night.

American Airlines, Southwest and United were the first suspensions announced at Armstrong, which handles about 10,000 passengers a day in August.

Southwest cancelled 80 flights on Tuesday to and from New Orleans. Three additional flights were added Monday night to help accommodate passengers on the cancelled flights. The airline will make a decision about Wednesday’s flights late Monday night or early Tuesday morning, according to spokeswoman Ashley Dillon.

Each Southwest plane on that route holds 137 passengers.

United Airlines, part of United Continental Holdings Inc., has cancelled all of its flights for Tuesday and Wednesday. It has 40 flights a day in and out of the airport, according to spokesman Joe Micucci.

American Airlines, part of AMR Corp., has cancelled all of its flights until Thursday morning. But the airline was frustrated with New Orleans airport executives, saying they shut the facility prematurely.

“We could have kept flying for a big chunk of Tuesday, but you can’t land at a closed airport,” spokesman Ed Martelle said via email. The airline planned for its last flight out to be a 7:45 p.m. Monday.

Iftikhar Ahmad, executive director of Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, said at a midday news conference Monday that the three airlines “will run today but are cancelling tomorrow.” He did not respond to a request for clarification about who made the final call to cancel flights. The airport was also reminding people that it is not an evacuation shelter and has restricted parking at its garages to ticketed passengers.

Airlines typically move planes out of a storm’s path to protect them and ensure a faster return to service. However, they like to wait until the last possible moment to cancel flights.

While New Orleans is preparing for the worst, airports in Florida were returning to normal operations Monday. More than 400 flights were cancelled at U.S. airports on Monday, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware. That was down from nearly 860 on Sunday. More than half of the cancellations Sunday were American Airlines flights, according to FlightAware. The airline runs a major hub at Miami International Airport.

Airlines are also cancelling flights to Pensacola, Fla., and Mobile, Ala. Those airports are tiny compared with Miami, which is a major gateway to Latin America and the Caribbean. Compared with New Orleans, more than five times the passengers pass through Miami on a given day.

All airlines will waive change fees for passengers wishing to move their flight into or out of an affected city to another date. They are also offering refunds to passengers whose flights have been cancelled. The specific policies can be found on each airline’s website.

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Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans contributed to this report.

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