Airlines cancel flights before Christmas

Workers de-ice an Alaska Airlines plane during a snowstorm at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) in Seattle, Washington, U.S., Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022.

david ryder | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Airlines canceled hundreds of flights this week as winter storms, freezing cold and high winds hampered travel to the United States ahead of the Christmas weekend.

Carriers cleared more than 3,200 US flights Wednesday through Friday, according to tracking site FlightAware. This period includes what airlines expected to be the busiest travel times ahead of Christmas, which is Sunday.

Chicago’s two major airports — O’Hare and Midway — and Denver International Airport had the largest share of canceled flights Thursday. Airlines have warned that snow, ice, high winds and cold temperatures could affect travel from Seattle to Boston in North Carolina.

Wednesday’s cancellations accounted for about 2% of US airlines’ schedule, while about 30% of flights were delayed by an average of 47 minutes, according to FlightAware data.

American, South West, United, Delta, Mind, JetBlue, Alaska and other airlines have issued weather waivers for dozens of destinations across the country, allowing travelers to change their departures without paying change fees or fare differences.

Airlines routinely cancel flights ahead of bad weather so travelers, crews and planes aren’t stranded at airports at the last minute, a situation that can snowball into disruption.

The weather could hurt what airlines had expected to be busy travel days to cap off a difficult year. United said it expects the holiday season to be busier than Thanksgiving with an average of 440,000 passengers per day. The carrier predicts that January 2 will be the busiest day since the start of the Covid pandemic.

Travelers arrive for their flights at United Airlines Terminal 1 ahead of the Christmas holiday at O’Hare International Airport on December 22, 2022 in Chicago.

Kamil Krzaczynski | AFP | Getty Images

Spring and summer disruptions due to bad weather and labor shortages sparked an outcry from customers and politicians, and prompted airlines to cut schedules.

Late last year and early 2022, the omicron wave of Covid sidelined crews and led to hundreds of flight cancellations.

American Airlines, for its part, offered extra pay for crews to work during peak holidays to bolster the workforce.

“Everyone is on deck to ensure our customers are taken care of during the holiday season, including extreme weather conditions,” American said in a statement. “It was critical to our preparations to size the airline based on the resources we have and the operating conditions we face, as well as being able to react quickly to get our customers on their way once the weather clears.”

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