As Hurricane Irene continues to make front page news and spirals closer to the densely populated northeast US, airports have begun preparations to close once the storm is close enough.

While Florida airports readily handle such advance preparations almost as routine business, it is unusual for northeast airports and it has left many managers and emergency officials scrambling to figure it out, calling it on the job training.

Large airports already closed or preparing for possible closure are Norfolk, Washington Reagan, Dulles, Baltimore BWI, Philadelphia, all three New York City area airports of Newark, LaGuardia, and JFK, plus Boston’s Logan International. Additional smaller airports are facing the same crucial preparations. These airports alone serve roughly 25% of all transatlantic routes by US airlines and handle approximately 225 million passengers a year.

Officials say once sustained winds reach 35 mph, or gusts reaching 45 mph, they will shut down the airports, however, airlines are likely to cancel flights before that in order to keep as many planes as possible out of the path of the hurricane.

Airlines have announced the waiver of change fees and rebooking fees due to Irene, have asked passengers to fly out early if possible and delay arrivals until after the storm has passed. Passengers are strongly urged to contact their airline either online or via the airlines’ toll-free numbers to find out the status of their flight before going to the airport.

Most passengers coming from the central and western US and heading to Europe are being rebooked onto connecting flights out of Houston, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, Dallas or Denver, where most carriers have major hubs, instead of going through the northeastern airports.

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