Rain slows end of holiday travel; Airlines, FAA pleased with period overall

The Thanksgiving holiday travel blitz stumbled to a close Monday with lengthy flight delays because of weather in New York and across much of the East Coast, according to the government and airline officials.

"Today was a very difficult day for us and every other airline operating in the Northeast," said AirTran Airways spokesman Dave Hirschman. "The weather was atrocious."

A storm moving up the East Coast brought rain and poor visibility that slowed arrivals for an average of two hours at New York's three major airports during most of Monday. Delays averaged as much as three hours for a brief time in the afternoon at LaGuardia Airport, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Airports in Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Charlotte reported steady but less severe delays, the FAA said. Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, a busy corporate and charter jet destination near New York City, also had delays.

The pattern of delays was typical during a year that has so far broken all records for late flights. New York-area airports trigger three-quarters of all delays across the nation, the FAA says.

In spite of Monday's congestion, the upswing in travel before and after Thanksgiving went relatively well, according to airlines and the FAA.

"We had smooth operations over the past few days," said David Castelveter, spokesman for the Air Transport Association, a trade group. Monday's storms created more slowdowns, "but nothing that will paralyze the system," he said.

FAA data showed that more flights were held up because of air-traffic congestion this year than last year's unusually smooth holiday. The delay totals in recent days were well below the numbers recorded during the worst days during last summer and spring.

The FAA reported 3,124 delays caused by air-traffic congestion on Nov. 20, the most congested day in the past week. Delay totals for Monday were not available.

Airlines and the FAA reacted positively to the opening of restricted military zones over the Atlantic Ocean to airline jets. Airlines used the more direct routes from New York to Southern destinations regularly Wednesday through Sunday, reducing delays, said FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown.