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Winter weather disrupts flights across the country


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Snow, ice and bone-chilling temperatures have hampered air travel operations across much of the country as the long weekend comes to a close.

Airlines have canceled thousands of flights in recent days. That includes more than 2,000 flights scrapped Monday, according to data from FlightAware.

The disruptions come as parts of the country dig out from heavy snow, and many other regions contend with sub-zero temperatures and even colder wind chills.

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As of mid-day Monday, Southwest Airlines led the way with 650 cancellations — about 16% of its schedule. An additional 680-plus Southwest flights have been delayed so far Monday.

The Dallas-based carrier has been hit by bad weather in many of its key focus cities. Chicago and Denver, home to a large share of the airline’s crews, have seen snow and bitter cold temperatures in recent days.

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Denver International Airport (DEN) leads all U.S. airports with 155 flight cancellations as of mid-day, FlightAware shows. And Midway International Airport (MDW) in Chicago, another key Southwest base, has seen 30% of its Monday flights canceled, the highest rate of any U.S. airport.

Airlines have also dealt with unusually bitter conditions across Texas, with more than 200 combined cancellations at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), Houston’s Intercontinental Airport (IAH) and Austin Bergstrom International Airport (AUS).

Airport operations affected

Wintry conditions Jan. 12 at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD). JIM VONDRUSKA/GETTY IMAGES

The snow, ice and dangerously cold conditions have complicated airport operations across much of the country.

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At O’Hare, the Airport Transit System, which shuttles passengers between terminals, the rental car facility and public transit broke down at one point Sunday amid the extreme temperatures — though it’s now back up and running.

Heavy snow in Buffalo saw around 83% of flights at Buffalo Niagra International Airport (BUF) canceled Sunday as part of a storm that led to New York Gov. Kathy Hochul implementing travel restrictions — and even saw the National Football League re-schedule a Buffalo Bills home playoff game for Monday.

In Texas, Dallas Love Field Airport (DAL) warned on social media of extreme weather conditions affecting North Texas, and a “significant number” of cancellations expected.

Meanwhile, to the south in Houston, airport officials praised maintenance teams for pretreating roads and runways with de-icing chemicals to keep operations running as normally as possible.

The National Weather Service warned of wintry conditions, including freezing rain, expected from Texas and Louisiana to the central Appalachian region and Mid-Atlantic states.

And, as these winter weather systems move east, some airlines have extended travel alerts to the East Coast and Northeast for the coming days, giving travelers added flexibility to change itineraries.

737 MAX 9 cancellations continue

This weekend’s disruptions have only added to the flight cancellations tally as two major U.S. carriers – United and Alaska — continue to cancel more than a hundred daily flights as a result of the Federal Aviation Administration’s grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX 9, the aircraft type involved in a harrowing midair emergency on a Jan. 5 on an Alaska flight.

Over the weekend, the Seattle-based carrier said it was still waiting on final instructions from the FAA and Boeing for inspections and maintenance required on each of its MAX 9s. The airline also revealed plans to step up its own oversight of Boeing’s production line on 737 MAX aircraft.

It’s not clear, at this point, how long the MAX 9 might stay grounded.

Bottom line

If you do have travel plans in the coming days, keep a close eye on your airline’s app for early warning signs that your flight may be delayed or canceled. Remember, even if the conditions are clear where you are now, widespread disruptions can leave aircraft and crews out of place, affecting flights even in parts of the country where it’s sunny and dry.

You may also want to check your airline’s website to see if your itinerary is covered by an airline travel alert that could allow you to change even a restrictive ticket at no added cost.

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