• Hurricane Idalia has caused significant flight disruptions, causing four Florida airports to close.
  • Tampa International Airport is concerned about storm surge and the potential for water to rise onto the airport.
  • The closure could have a ripple effect on flight operations nationwide.

Nearly 600 flights were canceled, and another 1,600 were delayed on Tuesday as the looming threat from Hurricane Idalia intensifies off the west coast of Florida. At least four airports have closed to prepare for the storm, while airlines have issued travel advisory waivers to affected passengers.

Despite the cyclone barreling toward the Southeast, flight impacts could be felt nationwide throughout the week. Once the storm passes, airport officials will assess any damage before reopening.

"Water onto the airport"

Tampa International Airport (TPA) ceased operations and closed Tuesday morning, which left passengers scrambling to find other airports nearby to fly out of to escape Idalia's path. The airport will remain closed until Thursday but could stay closed longer depending on when officials can inspect for storm damage or road closures.

Delta Air Lines Boeing 757-200 taking off from Tampa International Airport.
Photo: Drew Horne/Shutterstock

According to the Tampa Bay Times, the airport has secured jetways, equipment, and aircraft as the storm is expected to batter the region on Wednesday. Storm surge is reportedly one of the airport's main concerns, as forecasters predict water could rise between four and seven feet. TPA's Vice President of Airport Operations and Customer Service said in a press conference that the surge at high tide could bring water onto the airport.

“We’re taking all of the measures that we need to make sure we mitigate as best we can the impact of water onto the airport. That is making sure our drainage system is clear both on the airfield and in our terminal areas, we have no construction debris blocking the drains, and other measures that we take.”

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A ripple effect on the operation

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport (PIE), Sarasota Bradenton International Airport (SRQ), and Tallahassee International Airport (TLH) also closed on Tuesday. Orlando International Airport (MCO) indicated it will remain open as the storm is expected to pass northwest of the city.

PIE announced on Monday that the airport would be closed for 24 hours beginning at 15:00 on Tuesday. SRQ closed at 19:00 on Tuesday and expects to reopen on Wednesday at 8:00, pending damage assessments. United Airlines added extra flights from SRQ and MCO to allow more people to evacuate the area. From MCO, UA3019 left for Chicago at 10:40, and UA3022 departed for Houston at 12:45. UA3023 departed from SRQ to Chicago at 11:45.

TLH will close on Tuesday at 23:00, but officials did not indicate when the airport plans to reopen. Travelers were notified on social media to verify the status of their commercial flight with their airline before heading to the airport.

Airports across the country are already feeling the impacts from the storm precautions. American Airlines canceled all flights to Tampa from its east coast hubs, in Charlotte and Philadelphia.

According to Philadelphia ABC affiliate WPVI, passengers are paying close attention to Southwest Airlines as it is the largest carrier at TPA. With its point-to-point route network, several flights could be disrupted throughout the week. The FAA has also reportedly warned of flight impacts and increased delays in Atlanta and Denver as the major hubs are connecting points for travelers.

Waiting out the storm in the Midwest

Cincinnati NBC affiliate WLWT reported that several airplanes that have been evacuated from Idalia's path have been parked at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG). The aircraft will remain at the airport until the storm event is over.

Although TPA is slated to reopen on Thursday, it could take days to get back on schedule since airlines will need to reposition planes.

"It depends on the airlines," CVG spokesperson Mindy Kershner said. "They're the ones who set their flight schedules and how they kind of get their network back active and moving."

Sources: Tampa Bay Times, WPVI, WLWT