BOSTON — High winds and a powerful storm system moving through the Northeast stranded some travelers and delayed others Wednesday, the busiest travel day of the year, and threatened part of a New York Thanksgiving celebration.
Some of the lengthiest delays were at Philadelphia International Airport, a major hub for US Airways, where flights were nearly two hours behind schedule on average by midday Wednesday. In New York, midday delays ranged to almost an hour at LaGuardia Airport, according to air traffic control updates from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Officials in New York said they would decide Thursday morning whether to allow the famous character balloons to fly in the city's annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Forecasts say the day will probably be sunny, but winds could be strong.
After winds in 1997 caused one of the balloons to hit a light pole and injure a spectator, the city imposed safety regulations that prevent the balloons from flying if winds are blowing at more than 23 mph, or if gusts are stronger than 34 mph.
The storm's timing threw a wrench into holiday plans at the worst possible time: More than 43 million people were traveling over the long holiday weekend, according to AAA. The overwhelming majority — about 39 million people — will be on the roads. Though auto travel was predicted to be down slightly, air traffic was expected to be up narrowly.
In all, the storm led to the cancellation of about 500 flights by late Wednesday afternoon; more than 4,200 had been delayed by the storm, which was blamed for 11 deaths in recent days.
Still, many travelers were pleasantly surprised to find their flights on schedule. Travelers faced heavy turbulence as flights approached Logan International Airport in Boston, but delays in and out were minimal.
More disruption fell on carriers flying smaller planes. Cape Air, which flies aircraft like the Cessna 402, canceled dozens of flights to destinations such as Provincetown and Nantucket in Massachusetts; Saranac Lake, N.Y.; and Augusta, Maine. Shortly before 1 p.m. local time, a Cape Air gate agent announced that winds had reached 90 mph on some flight routes.
Some travelers decided to wait out the storm. Nantucket-bound Rachel Delano, a 24-year-old University of Pennsylvania student, flew into Boston from Philadelphia on Tuesday night in hope of beating the storm. She made it to Boston only to find her flight to Nantucket canceled.
"I knew I was going to be stranded in Boston today," she said, noting that she had brought a novel, "Affinity," and was already halfway through it. A day at the airport was still worth it, she said, if she could make it to Nantucket for the Thanksgiving "plunge" — a library fundraiser for which locals run into the ocean — and time with her parents.
Delano said she had become accustomed to travel hiccups en route to Nantucket, but her family lived by a motto that made the delays easier to handle.
"My dad always says, 'It wouldn't be special if it was easy to get here or easy to leave,'" she said.