US carriers grounded a majority of flights to Europe for a third day Saturday as the huge ash cloud from an Icelandic volcano blew across the continent causing one of the worst air traffic disruptions in history.
Out of 337 scheduled flights by US carriers to and from Europe, 282 were cancelled Saturday, according to the Air Transport Association (ATA).
"This is significant, it's disruptive to the carriers' ability to operate their flights" and get tens of thousands of people to their destinations across the Atlantic, ATA vice president of communications David Castelveter told AFP.
But US airports remained relatively free of the throngs of stranded passengers that filled those of their European counterparts, Castelveter and US airport authorities said.
"We're not seeing large crowds of people stranded... The airlines are letting their passengers know ahead of time," said Courtney Mickalonis, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.
"But we're still seeing cancellations to any airport in Europe closed due to the ash cloud," she said of flights from Dulles International Airport outside Washington.
And the expectation was that many if not most of the flights would remain cancelled through Sunday.
United Airlines, with dozens of daily transatlantic flights to European cities, said it "has canceled a number of flights between the United States and Europe through the weekend."
US air carriers, including cargo companies like FedEx, operate about 340 flights per day to and from Europe.
Chicago's O'Hare airport saw 22 flights to or from northern Europe cancelled Saturday, the same as Friday morning.
Delta airlines, which cancelled several of its flights Friday and Saturday, said it will "delay resuming full operations until we're confident that we can safely and consistently complete scheduled service."
"Once we resume service, we'll look to operate additional flights and larger aircraft to get customers to their destinations," the airline said in a statement.
Customers were being advised by several airlines that they could request refunds or change their flights without penalty.
The International Civil Aviation Organization warned Saturday that the disruption caused by the ash cloud from the volcanic eruption under Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull glacier exceeds that of the airspace shutdown after the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.
The trade group International Air Transport Association, which represents 230 airlines operating 93 percent of global trade traffic, meanwhile estimated the shutdown's cost for the industry amounts to about 200 million dollars (147.3 million euros) each day.
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