The winter storm currently pounding the East Coast is having a familiar, dreary effect: Thousands of flights have been canceled, impacting travelers across the country as the storm moves from region to region.
More than 2,800 flights were halted Monday, following nearly 2,000 flights canceled Sunday, according to FlightAware.
Reagan National Airport just outside Washington, D.C., had 570 cancellations Monday, the most for any single airport, while there were hundreds of additional cancellations at airports in Baltimore, Philadelphia and the New York area. In addition, there were dozens of flights canceled in locations stretching from Chicago to Nashville and from Miami to Dallas.
For travelers, this is only the latest chapter in the miserable saga that has been this winter. As storm after storm drops foot after foot of snow on areas like Chicago, Philadelphia and Boston, airlines have had to ground tens of thousands of flights. At one point in January, JetBlue opted to shut down its flight operations in much of the Northeast for nearly a day.
This impact is also routinely felt in areas far from the worst weather. Dozens of flights through Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., were canceled Monday, despite both places experiencing partly cloudy skies and temperatures just below 80 degrees.
The main reason is simple, obvious and worth remembering: While each airport exists in its own particular meteorological circumstances, the national air traffic system is an interconnected spiderweb of flight paths. Travelers can board a plane that takes off in Atlanta, lands in Detroit and then continues on to Las Vegas — or they can rely on a connection, which means they are reliant on (at least) two separate planes that need to make it through (at least) two routes uninterrupted.
So as cancellations mount at key hubs like Chicago’s O’Hare or the three New York airports, the ripple effect begins to reach travelers thousands of miles removed from the snow.
Consider O’Hare, which had more than 5,000 flights canceled in January (the most of any airport in the U.S. that month) as nearly three feet of snow fell on the region. In 2012, the top destinations for flights leaving O’Hare were New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Dallas/Fort Worth. So snowfall in Chicago can reverberate 2,000 miles away in Los Angeles, even if there isn’t a single flake falling in Southern California.
[Update: This post has been updated at 3:35 p.m. to reflect the latest flight cancellation numbers for Monday.]