Delta Air Lines Inc., the area's top commercial carrier, canceled four flights between Charleston and Atlanta this morning, while it checked 117 of its jets for "airworthiness."
Delta said the safety checks on its fleet of MD-88s would force it to cancel up to 275 flights, about 3 percent of its scheduled takeoffs worldwide. The Atlanta-based carrier plans to have 70 percent of the jets cleared for service by tonight, with the remainder joining the active fleet early Friday.
Delta uses the suspect 142-seat planes to handle 12 daily flights between Charleston and Atlanta, almost a third of its local operations. These are the flights:
6 a.m. to Atlanta (flight 1072)
7:30 a.m. to Atlanta (flight 1203)
11:22 a.m. to Atlanta (flight 462)
2:12 p.m. to Atlanta (flight 1837
3:50 p.m. to Atlanta (flight 1157
5:50 p.m. to Atlanta (flight 1555)
As of mid-morning, Delta canceled its first three daily MD-88 flights and said that the remaining three MD-88 departures from Charleston would take off as scheduled. The airline also canceled one MD-88 flight scheduled to arrive in Charleston from Atlanta at 10:41 a.m. The remaining five MD-88 arrivals were expected on time.
Jan Bovermann, a visitor from Frankfurt, was booked on one of the cancelled flights. After standing in various lines in a state of confusion, Bovermann was eventually listed on an evening flight to Germany through Cincinnati.
"It's a scandal," he said. "Nobody called."
Corinne Mann, another frustrated traveler, was told that all flights were operating as scheduled when she checked in Wednesday night for a morning flight to Atlanta. After waiting on an airport phone for almost an hour, Mann was told she was rebooked for a flight Friday morning.
"Great" she sighed, as she slammed the receiver down.
Travelers who registered with Delta for updates had better luck. Reid Cox of Mount Pleasant said her boyfriend got a text message last night about 11:30 p.m. telling him their flight would be canceled. They received phone calls at 4:30, 5 and 5:30 a.m. saying the same thing.
"It hasn't been a problem," Cox said. "We got to sleep in."
Mechanics will check bundles of wires leading to the jets' fuel pumps for chafing and, in some cases, wrap the wires in a protective sleeve. The FAA warning on the MD-88s was originally issued in September 2006. At the time, the government estimated that it would take about 12 hours to check each plane and it gave airlines 18 months to comply, a window of time that closed the first week of March.
Thursday's cancellations came weeks after the FAA fined Southwest $10.2 million for missing inspection deadlines and continuing to fly passengers on suspect planes even after realizing the mistake. Southwest has said that it will appeal the penalty, but in the meantime, the FAA ordered a check of all U.S. airlines' maintenance records. The agency said a full audit covering at least 10 percent of all safety directives will be finished by June 30.
The MD-88 warning also grounded an estimated 457 American flights. However, the Texas-based carrier uses smaller jets on all six of its daily routes to and from Charleston.