Flights into and out of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport were expected to stop Thursday afternoon because of high winds from a winter storm.
Southwest Airlines said it was canceling all operations at the nation’s 10th-busiest airport as of 2 p.m. MST (4 p.m. EST). The exact number of Southwest flights affected wasn’t available, but the airline has 173 daily nonstops from Phoenix to 44 cities and additional service to 22 cities, said spokeswoman Olga Romero. There are a similar number of arrivals.
US Airways was trimming its flight schedule and had canceled 14 mainline and 12 US Airways Express flights. Other operations were continuing as weather allowed, said airline spokeswoman Valerie Wunder. US Airways has 265 daily departures from Phoenix.
United Airlines and other operators also curtailed their operations.
A very strong winter storm moving through Arizona was the culprit. The National Weather Service predicted up to 7 inches of rain could fall on Thursday and Friday in the Phoenix area, and high winds were expected Thursday afternoon.
The airport’s three runways run east to west, and southerly winds in excess of 40 mph were expected Thursday afternoon. Airliners typically don’t take off or land when crosswinds are much above 25 mph, said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor.
Flights that hadn’t left for Phoenix by about 10:30 a.m. local time were likely being held until Thursday evening, said Sky Harbor spokeswoman Deborah Ostreicher.
Flights set for departure from Sky Harbor after about 1 p.m. will probably be held on the ground, depending on the weather.
Sky Harbor has an average of 1,200 daily arrivals and departures. The flight cancellations will likely have a ripple effect on travel across the nation, but airlines were working to minimize that effect.
Southwest said affected travelers would be allowed to rebook their flights without penalty.
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