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Flight cancellations exceed 5,000 Friday amid winter storm disruptions

Airports in the Midwest and Northeast are hit hard as the storm disrupts busy holiday travel

American Airlines screens display flight information, including canceled and delayed flights, at O‘Hare International Airport in Chicago on Thursday. (Nam Y. Huh/AP)
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Air travel disruptions continued for a third day Friday with more than 5,000 daily flight cancellations as a massive storm brings heavy snow, ice and severe cold to significant portions of the United States.

The past three days have brought headaches for airlines and passengers: More than 8,000 flights have been canceled since Wednesday, upending travel plans for millions of Americans headed for Christmas getaways. More cancellations and delays are expected Saturday.

The storm has struck during one of the busiest holiday travel seasons in more than two decades, creating dangerous conditions on the ground. Some long-distance and regional rail services have been canceled through Sunday. Bus lines suspended service. State highway officials reported closed freeways and severe crashes.

Winter storm sparks flight cancellations, strands thousands in airports

The number of cancellations more than doubled, compared with those Wednesday, according to the flight tracking website FlightAware. By 4 p.m. Friday, Southwest Airlines had canceled more than 900 flights, more than any other U.S. airline. American Airlines canceled about 350 and United Airlines and Delta Air Lines canceled about 290 each.

The airports with most flight cancellations and delays over the winter storm

Most of the affected flights had destinations or departures in the Midwest and Northeast, including at the Washington region’s three airports. About 25 percent of flights into and out of Reagan National Airport were canceled Friday.

In Seattle, runways closed at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for several hours early Friday while crews worked to de-ice surfaces, and resumed with limited operations. Nearly 50 percent of the flights to and from the airport were canceled on Friday as western Washington state remained under a storm warning.

The Federal Aviation Administration on Friday cited forecasts of gusting wind, blowing snow and severe cold hampering operations at airports from Seattle to Chicago to Boston. On the East Coast, the FAA said, high winds threatened delays from Boston to Charlotte, affecting hubs in New York, Philadelphia and Washington. FlightAware cited more than 8,600 delays nationwide.

Amtrak and the intercity bus carriers Greyhound and Coach USA also have suspended some trips through Sunday. Amtrak canceled some trains to and from Vermont on Friday as conditions deteriorated in the Northeast. The railroad earlier this week suspended some train service through Sunday on multiple Midwest and cross-country routes.

Service is canceled on long-distance routes that originate or end in Chicago, including the Empire Builder, the Cardinal, the Capitol Limited, the Southwest Chief and the Lake Shore Limited. Amtrak asked passengers to check the status of their trains before heading to the stations. The passenger rail agency said that those affected would be able to re-book and change and that cancellation fees would be waived.

Roads became treacherous in many places. At least 10 traffic fatalities across four states this week have been linked to the massive storm. One person was killed and multiple others were injured in a 50-vehicle pileup Friday afternoon on the Ohio Turnpike, according to Ohio State Highway Patrol. On Friday, traffic had also slowed to a crawl on roadways from Chicago to Nashville to Pittsburgh.

The National Weather Service warned that Arctic air and dangerous wind chill would continue for most of the eastern two-thirds of the country into the holiday weekend.

“This system will have increasingly widespread impacts to travel going into the busy holiday travel time late this week, along with the potential for power outages from the expected high winds, heavy snows, significant icing and overall increased power consumption in places,” the agency said.

The storm is the latest trouble for an industry that endured a summer marked by widespread cancellations that drew the attention of lawmakers and regulators. Airlines also spent last Christmas and New Year’s season recovering from several thousand canceled flights amid heavy snow and staffing shortages fueled by the omicron variant of the coronavirus. By this fall, carriers had mostly recovered and in recent months had signaled enthusiasm about their business.

Americans brace for ‘once in a generation’ winter storm chaos

More than 112 million people were expected to travel 50 or more miles from home between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2, according to AAA. Most of them — nearly 102 million — would drive, AAA said. More than 7 million would be flying, while several million more would take trains or use other modes of transportation. According to AAA, 2022 is shaping up to be the third-busiest year for U.S. holiday travel since it began tracking the numbers in 2000.