Hurricane Sandy has brought air travel to a halt in the northeast US, grounding thousands of flights and upending travel plans across the globe.

Planes and passengers will remain stranded on Tuesday and it could be a number of days before airport operations are back to normal.

According to the flight-tracking service FlightAware on Monday, nearly 12,500 flights have been cancelled for Monday and Tuesday, almost all related to the storm.

Major carriers such as American Airlines, United and Delta cancelled all flights into and out of three area airports in New York, the nation’s busiest airspace.

About a quarter of all US flights travel to or from New York airports each day. So cancellations there can dramatically impact travel in other cities.

Delays rippled across the US, affecting travellers in cities from San Francisco to Atlanta.

Disruptions spread to Europe and Asia, where airlines cancelled or delayed flights to New York and Washington from cities that are major travel hubs – including London, Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong.

By early afternoon, the storm’s winds had strengthened and had already knocked out power to tens of thousands of people.

Sandy was 177km southeast of Atlantic City, New Jersey and had turned toward the west, as forecasters feared.

Sandy is on track to collide with a wintry storm moving in from the west and cold air streaming down from the Arctic.

Even if storm damage is minor it could be a week before operations are normal at major East Coast airports, said Angela Gittens, director general of the Airports Council International, a trade group for airports worldwide.

“The storm has such a wide swath and so many major airports are involved that it’s going to take some time (to recover) because those aeroplanes are so far away,” said Gittens, who served as aviation director at Miami International Airport Dade during several hurricanes from 2001 to 2004.

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