NEWARK, N.J. (AP/CBS New York) — For the third time in a month, airline passengers were forced to navigate a sea of canceled and delayed flights after a winter storm disrupted travel in the Northeast.

The storm dumped more snow than forecasters had predicted, closing runways and clogging roads leading to airports. A foot and a half of snow in New York virtually shut down LaGuardia and Kennedy airports.

Airline officials, however, expected the storm to cause fewer hassles than major winter blasts in late December and mid-January because of lighter traffic. By late morning, about 1,600 flights had been canceled, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware.

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Continental and United canceled more than 650 flights between them. US Airways and its regional affiliates canceled more than 350. Southwest started the day by canceling 120 flights including everything before early afternoon at Islip, N.Y.

“Slow-going is the mantra,” said Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins. “Flying is not the problem; it’s moving people and planes and equipment.”

Delta and its Delta Connection affiliate canceled more than 475 flights across a swath of the country running from Washington to Boston. Spokesman Anthony Black said departures weren’t expected to resume at New York City-area airports until late Thursday afternoon.

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JetBlue Airways, which is based in New York, canceled 260 flights Thursday after scratching 115 on Wednesday.

American Airlines and regional affiliate American Eagle scrubbed 177 flights by midmorning and the number was likely to rise, said spokesman Tim Smith.

That’s far fewer than American was canceling at the height of the Christmas-week storm. The bad news, Smith said is, “Some employees are having difficulty getting to their airports.”

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The airlines were allowing passengers scheduled to fly to or from the Northeast to delay their trips a few days without getting socked by a ticket-change fee, which is usually $150 for domestic travel.

AirTran Airways, which had canceled 18 flights by midmorning, was allowing travelers to delay trips without penalty by more than a week — longer than the usual grace period. Spokesman Christopher White said that made it easier to put stranded travelers on later flights.

While airlines are operating with fuller flights than a year ago thanks to a modest recovery in travel demand, planes are typically less full in late January than in December. That was expected to make it easier to rebook travelers — in sharp contrast to late December, when it took some passengers several days to get home.

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