Airlines Cancel Flights as Winter Storm and High Winds Snarl Christmas Travel

Airlines are canceling hundreds of flights as severe winter storms are expected to bring freezing temperatures, gusty winds and snow across the country in the coming days.

More than 1,200 US flights originally scheduled for Thursday were canceled as of Wednesday afternoon, according to flight-tracking site FlightAware. Denver and Chicago airports saw the biggest reductions. The airline also canceled about 700 flights scheduled for Friday in preparation for severe weather heading east in the next few days.

The Arctic explosion has disrupted travel in one of the busiest weeks of the year, complicating airline operations and testing the ability of airlines to bounce back from severe weather events during peak demand.

Millions of people are expected to travel during the winter holidays.United Airlines Holdings Ltd.

The company said it expects an average of 440,000 passengers per day from Dec. 22 to Jan. 9.

Airports have been busy this week, with more than 2.2 million people passing through U.S. airports each day, according to the Transportation Security Administration. Airport traffic on Tuesday was about 11% higher than on the same weekday in 2019.

Air travel has struggled to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, but operations have stabilized this fall. Airlines say their efforts, including shortening schedules to more manageable levels and increasing hiring, have paid off, resulting in fewer fare cancellations.

The skies remained mostly clear during Thanksgiving week, one of the busiest days for U.S. airports since the pandemic first devastated travel demand, and flights departed without a hitch for the most part.

Many people who travel for Christmas aren’t so lucky.

About 20% of flights to and from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on Thursday were cancelled. Extreme cold, described by the National Weather Service as “life-threatening,” is expected to curb activity in Denver.

Southwest Airlines Ltd.

On Wednesday, it cut operations at airports, including Midway International Airport in Denver and Chicago, canceling about 500 of the 4,000 flights scheduled for Thursday and Friday. The aim is to limit the number of workers exposed to hazardous conditions and keep the network as long as possible, the airline said in a statement.

United Airlines has also started to scale back operations, with about 250 flights actively canceled as of Wednesday night. “While Midwest snow appears to be somewhat less intense than originally forecast, cold weather and gusty winds could have the greatest impact on our business. But we are prepared,” said a spokesperson. a representative said.

delta airlines Ltd.

It said it expects weather systems to affect travel as it travels across the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley and into the Northeast and New England. I mentioned that I was trying to cancel my flight a long time ago.

Airlines are gearing up for the storm, offering customers the opportunity to change flights in dozens of cities without paying the fare difference.


Erin Hooley/Associated Press

Last year’s Christmas trip was also severely disrupted. Pilots, flight attendants, and other employees flocked to the sick during the initial surge of Omicron variants, and bad weather across the country compounded the problem. This is his one of the most significant large-scale flight cancellation events in recent years, and it has taken weeks to deal with.

Winter storms tend to be easier for airlines to plan than Covid-19 outbreaks or summer thunderstorms and tornadoes that can strike without prior warning. Begin operational preparations in advance, testing equipment and practicing de-icing.

Carriers are gearing up to bear the brunt of this storm. Since earlier this week, it has offered customers the opportunity to change flights in dozens of cities without paying the fare difference.

An American Airlines Group spokesperson said, “Everyone is working hard to ensure our customers are well taken care of during the holiday travel season, including in the event of severe weather.” Ltd.


Still, ice, snow and frigid temperatures inevitably present challenges. De-icing can cause deceleration. When temperatures drop to dangerous levels, employees can’t be outside for long periods of time. The equipment needs to be checked further, kept running, and requires extra manpower. Poor road conditions can keep employees stuck at home.

Aircraft de-icing is a collaborative effort with multiple steps and a race against time. A United Airlines de-icing expert explains the process and why it’s important to keep planes moving.Photo illustration: Preston Jesse for The Wall Street Journal

Tim Donohue, co-founder of Aerology, a startup aimed at predicting flight disruptions, said the extreme cold and winds demanded by weather forecasters combined with even a small amount of snow It says it can cause problems.

For example, after spraying de-icing fluid, the plane may not be able to take off fast enough before another spray is needed. A gust of wind can blow snow away, rapidly reducing a pilot’s visibility and undermining efforts to keep the runway clear.

“If the wind is strong enough, you can’t really de-ice it,” he said.

Some passengers are rushing to adjust their plans in hopes of avoiding travel pain. and helped relieve pressure on the system.

Mykael Rodarte initially thought Friday’s flight home from Buffalo, New York to Los Angeles would be fine.But he began to worry when the weather forecast showed a storm hitting his area earlier in the day. Ltd.

Offered a free flight change, he jumped at the chance and decided to travel on Thursday instead.

He said: “I didn’t want to risk missing the whole trip.”

Write to Alison Sider at

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