20230831 idalia
A sign shows all flights cancelled at the closed Tampa International Airport in Tampa, Florida. Image Credit: AFP

Airlines canceled more than 1,000 flights Wednesday as Hurricane Idalia closed airports in Florida and disrupted air travel across the South in advance of a busy holiday weekend.

Carriers, airports and the Federal Aviation Administration began preparing for the storm's arrival early in the week, with Tampa International Airport preemptively shutting down Tuesday as teams moved aircraft and other equipment out of harm's way.

Southwest Airlines, which has a heavy presence in Florida, scrubbed more than 220 flights Wednesday with Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines canceling 160 and American Airlines canceling 150, according to data from tracking service FlightAware.

The FAA said Wednesday the storm could have effects beyond the immediate area where it made landfall and urged travelers to check with airlines before heading to the airport.

Southwest told customers that flights to and from almost a dozen destinations in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina could be disrupted through Thursday and that it would allow passengers to rebook. Other airlines have issued similar waivers.

Tampa airport executives said the closure stemmed from the facility being vulnerable to storm surge, despite being outside the storm's direct path. But the airport ultimately suffered minimal damage from the storm, with flooding on the airfield not affecting runways.

The airport was preparing to reopen to incoming flights Wednesday afternoon, before restoring outbound service in the early hours of Thursday.

"TPA is fortunate to have avoided the worst effects of such a dangerous storm, after acting in an abundance of caution to protect the safety of our passengers, employees and facilities," airport chief executive Joe Lopano said in a statement.

The FAA is expecting a busy travel period Wednesday and Thursday as flights ramp up in advance of the Labor Day weekend. The agency expects traffic to peak Thursday with more than 52,000 flights. It wasn't clear early Wednesday what effect the storm might have on travel for the holiday.

Amtrak also canceled a handful of trains Wednesday originating in Florida and bound for the state, and shortened other routes to avoid areas hit by the storm.