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More than 1,500 flights canceled Sunday after storms, other disruptions

A passenger jet takes off Saturday from Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix. Airlines have canceled thousands of U.S. flights this weekend and delayed thousands more, citing weather in Florida and other issues. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

U.S. airlines canceled more than 1,500 flights Sunday as they tried to dig out of problems caused by severe thunderstorms in Florida and other disruptions that hit during the peak spring travel season.

Southwest canceled 400 flights Sunday, or 10 percent of its total, down from approximately 600 scuttled flights as of late Saturday, according to the airline, which sought to assuage irritated customers with what it called an “all hands on deck” effort to get them where they were trying to go.

But many passengers were left stranded.

“Annoyed and let down,” was data analyst Max Baldwin’s summary after Southwest canceled his flight from Nashville on Sunday and told him the earliest the airline could get him back to St. Louis was Tuesday.

Baldwin’s two shepherd mixes and greyhound mix were going to lose their dog-sitter, and he had to get back for work, so his dad is schlepping him 300 miles home in his truck instead, he said, given fellow passengers had already grabbed all the rental cars.

The problems were widespread through the weekend. JetBlue canceled nearly a third of its total flights Sunday, about 352 dashed departures, according to FlightAware, the aviation data company. American Airlines and Spirit also each canceled more than 250 flights Sunday.

Even more flights — more than 1,700 — were canceled Saturday, according to FlightAware data.

Major Florida thunderstorms led to multi-hour delays and airborne detours as air traffic controllers instituted what they term a “flow constrained area” in airspace over Florida.

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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) notified airlines that flights seeking to cross into that area headed south Saturday would be delayed an average of five hours, or forced to reroute. Northbound routes were also affected, airlines said.

“The limiting factor on the East Coast has been weather during a time of peak demand,” according to FAA spokesman Matthew Lehner.

The Transportation Security Administration said it screened 2,271,659 people at its airport checkpoints Friday, and another 1,913,117 on Saturday, approaching pre-pandemic levels.

Southwest said problems with weather, air traffic conditions and airspace congestion started snowballing Saturday, leading to hundreds of cancellations across the country. It said lightning also forced “repeated pausing” of ramp operations in Florida, causing more delays. Planned technology maintenance Friday night into Saturday morning also caused delays and seven cancellations, Southwest said Sunday. In a tweet Saturday, the airline offered “heartfelt apologies” and pointed to disruptions caused by “briefly pausing our service” to deal with an intermittent technology issue, in addition to the weather.

Hundreds of Sunday flights had to be canceled “because of aircraft and crews that were out of their planned positions,” Southwest said.

JetBlue said “severe weather in the southeast and multiple air traffic control delay programs have created significant impacts on the industry.” The airline apologized and said its flight cancellations “will help us reset our operation and safely move our crews and aircraft back in to position” so it can get customers on planes “as quickly as possible.”