Bad Weather Cuts Flights Through Midwest Hub

A winter storm is dumping several inches of snow in parts of the Midwest and it's causing delays at busy airports. Video by AP
By Del Quentin Wilber and Kendra Marr
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, December 29, 2007

A Midwest snowstorm forced airlines to delay or cancel hundreds of flights across the nation yesterday as passengers continued to face obstacles to their holiday travel plans.

Air travelers in the Washington area were largely spared the tumult, except those trying to make connections in Chicago, where airlines canceled hundreds of flights.

Reagan National Airport was calm, with some passengers expressing resignation that their flights to Chicago were canceled.

One of those trying to reach the Windy City was Eileen Bedlington, a trumpet player in the U.S. Navy Band, who was hoping to see her boyfriend. Her United Airlines flight had been canceled, and she was trying to fly standby on another airline in the afternoon.

"There is always the possibility of snow in Chicago," she said with a sigh.

About 40 percent of scheduled flights were delayed or canceled nationally through mid-afternoon yesterday, according to the flight-tracking service FlightStats. In the Washington area, 25 percent of flights departed late from the three airports and about 80 percent of flights arrived on time through mid-afternoon, according to FlightStats.

United canceled about 270 arrivals and departures, about 20 percent of its flights, at its major hub at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, the carrier said. American Airlines, which also runs many flights through O'Hare, canceled 220.

The two carriers scrubbed seven flights to and from O'Hare from the three Washington area airports. Airline representatives said they were trying to book customers on other flights.

"We are trying accommodate as many customers as we can," said Megan McCarthy, a United spokeswoman. "We are proactively canceling flights to minimize the impact to our customers."

Southwest Airlines, which operates out of Chicago's Midway Airport, canceled 37 of its 3,400 flights yesterday because of the snowstorm. None of the cancellations affected Washington area customers, said Christi Day, a Southwest spokeswoman.

It was a tough week for air travelers. Last weekend, about 50 percent of flights nationally arrived late or were canceled at the nation's 35 busiest airports, according to preliminary data from the Federal Aviation Administration. On Wednesday, about 40 percent of flights were delayed or canceled at those airports. The delays spread into Thursday, with about 44 percent of airline flights arriving late or being canceled. FAA officials and airlines blamed heavy traffic and bad weather.

Laura Brown, an FAA spokeswoman, said the system was operating fairly smoothly yesterday because traffic was normal and the snowstorm affected only a few airports. She said few flights were delayed in the Northeast, which includes some of the most congested airspace in the world.

"It's been a fairly normal day except for some bad weather in Chicago and San Francisco," where low clouds reduced the number of flights, Brown said.

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