By Bryan Jung
A surge in flight cancellations throughout the United States is mounting, as a major winter storm moves in before the Christmas holiday weekend.
As of 3:20 p.m. ET on Dec. 23, the total number of cancellations within, into, or out of the United States on Friday hit 4,679, while delays reached 6,675 on Friday, according to FlightAware.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport had 46 percent of departing flights canceled after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) early on Friday issued a ground stop due to snow and ice.
More than 40 percent of departing flights at Detroit Metro were canceled, 62 percent at Portland, 35 percent at New York’s LaGuardia, 27 percent in Boston, and 23 percent at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, which noted that wind gusts of 40 to 50 mph are expected in Chicago on Friday.
The massive cold front is expected to sweep across the country over the weekend, with several airlines planning delays and cancellations.
This weekend is one of the busiest travel times for the airline industry before Christmas Day.
The American Automobile Associate estimates that about 112 million Americans are expected to travel over the Christmas weekend, starting on Dec. 23.
About 102 million are expected to drive to see their loved ones, while another 7.2 million are expected to travel by plane, according to AAA.
Flight cancellations started to tick up on the morning of Dec. 21, with increasingly severe weather and frigid temperatures hitting later that day, with more expected through the weekend, as the cold front moves further east.
As the storm pushes east, airlines are issuing waivers in much of the Midwest, Northeast, and in parts of the South, ahead of bad weather to avoid having passengers and crew stuck at airports.
Domestic airlines like American, Southwest, United, Delta, Spirit, JetBlue, and Alaska, have issued weather waivers for destinations throughout the country, and are allowing flyers to change their departures without paying a fee to change flights or pay for differences in fare.
Airlines Hunker Down Over Storm Threat
Meanwhile, airlines are concerned that snow, ice, high winds, and cold temperatures could affect travel from Seattle to Boston to North Carolina, reported CNBC.
“A surge of Arctic air behind a cold front crossing the U.S. through the week will bring widespread, dangerous wind chill temperatures through much of the central U.S. and a potential flash freeze from the mid-South to the East Coast,” according to the National Weather Service.
“A major winter storm will form on this front bringing heavy snow and high winds creating blizzard conditions for parts of the Plains into the Great Lakes.”
The end of the peak Christmas travel season, Jan. 2, is expected to the busiest day since the COVID-19 pandemic, as millions of Americans depart their friends and family to return home.
Airlines are still reeling from the COVID-19 lockdowns, which started in 2020.
Many airline staff were laid off during the lockdowns, which has led to a worker shortage, causing delays and flight cancellations.
Late last year and into early 2022, further lockdowns during the so-called Omicron wave of COVID-19 sidelined crews and led to hundreds of flight cancellations.
American Airlines, for its part, has been offering extra pay for crews to work on peak holidays to shore up staffing.
Reuters contributed to this report.