Florida Airports May Be Out Until Midweek

MIAMI (AP) -- It could be midweek before normal service resumes at major Florida airports, meaning hundreds of thousands domestic and international fliers will be inconvenienced at least another day because of Hurricane Wilma and the troubled airline industry will lose millions of dollars in revenue.

Airports in Miami, Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, which were closed because of extensive hurricane-related damage and power outages, were struggling to reopen by the end of Tuesday, but officials said there were no guarantees such goals would be met. At least 2,000 flights have been canceled into and out of South Florida's three major airports.

''For all practical purposes, if we don't get power by 2 o'clock or so, we probably will not be able to open up'' until at least Wednesday, said Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport spokesman Steve Belleme. The airport terminal and at least one concourse sustained damage.

Officials also were trying to figure out how a Broward County curfew that begins at 7 p.m. would affect arriving passengers.

Miami International Airport, the busiest U.S. hub for Latin American travel and the busiest state hub for foreign travel, had power on Tuesday morning, but repairs were still being made to roofs, fences and loading bridges, according to spokesman Marc Henderson.

Miami's airport is open to relief flights, but most air carriers won't start flying until Wednesday night or Thursday morning, Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Laura Brown said.

The hurricane also wreaked havoc at some smaller airports and made others inaccessible by downing trees on access roads. Boca Raton lost most of its hangars, and Hollywood-North Perry sustained extensive damage to its tower and roof.

The runway at Key West is under water from the storm surge, Brown said.

The Air Transport Association, the trade group representing U.S. airlines in Washington, said it wasn't just flights in and out of Miami that were being disrupted, but that service problems in other parts of the country were limited because the industry had days of advance warning before Wilma hit.

''Still, with fuel prices so high, the last thing you want is an interruption in your revenue stream,'' said ATA spokesman John Heimlich, who estimated that carriers had so far lost millions of dollars in revenue.

Hurricane Wilma caused billions of dollars in insured damage, cut the electricity of millions of Floridians and killed at least five people.

''The bottom line is, it has basically disrupted or stopped the traffic flowing from Latin America into North America,'' said John Hotard, a spokesman for AMR Corp.'s American Airlines -- which has a major hub in Miami. ''Miami is a major point, and this is a major disruption.''

American has at least 500 scheduled flights per day into and out of Miami, and travelers with tickets on flights into or out of South Florida are finding themselves with few options.

''We always tell people to check the Web site or their travel agency,'' Hotard said. ''Most people know that when the hub is closed or the airport is closed, they're not flying tomorrow. When we can accommodate them, we try to, but most of our passengers are going to have to wait until we get going again.''

Southwest Airlines Co. did not operate any flights into Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood, Palm Beach International or Fort Myers airports on Monday. ''When we resume depends on the condition of those airports,'' Southwest spokeswoman Brandy King said.

Southwest operations in Orlando and Tampa were largely unaffected.

Virtually all carriers, including JetBlue Airways Corp. -- which services Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Orlando, Tampa, and West Palm Beach -- were allowing passengers whose flights were canceled by Wilma to rebook their travel without change fees or fare differences.

Federal Aviation Administration officials said Wilma necessitated the closure of nine Florida airports; others included facilities in Boca Raton, Hollywood-North Perry, Key West, Kissimmee Gateway, Marathon, Fort Myers Page Field, Pompano Beach Airpark and Witham Field in Stuart.