Flight cancellations on Friday top 5,300, disrupting holiday travel

(CNN) — Winter weather continues to disrupt holiday travel across the United States on Friday, leaving travelers facing delays and cancellations during one of the busiest times of the year.

More than 5,300 Friday flights have already been canceled as of 7:40 p.m. ET, following nearly 2,700 cancellations on Thursday, according to flight tracking site FlightAware.

Cancellations were highest Friday at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, New York’s LaGuardia, Chicago O’Hare, Denver International and Detroit Metro Airport, according to FlightAware data. In Canada, Toronto topped flight cancellations.

In addition to the cancellations, there had been more than 9,100 delays at 7:40 PM ET among the flights that still departed.

For Saturday, more than 570 flights have already been cancelled. But until Christmas Day, only 10 flights have been canceled so far.

Buffalo Niagara International Airport in New York was battered by wind-whipped snow and had to shut down flights completely.

“Buffalo Airport Airfield has closed due to hazardous weather conditions,” and all flights scheduled for the evening have been canceled, according to a tweet from the airport’s official Twitter account.

At airports in Cleveland and Grand Rapids, Michigan, more than 70% of flights are canceled.

The ground stops

The Federal Aviation Administration issued ground stops Friday morning for flights bound for Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina, American Airlines’ second largest hub, and Reagan National Airport near Washington, DC, due to icing.

In the Pacific Northwest, FAA notices showed that flights bound for Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and Portland International Airport were also under ground control Friday morning due to snow and ice.

The FAA says the large air pressure changes associated with this storm will trigger strong winds at airports from Boston down to Atlanta.

Airports in Chicago and Denver saw the most cancellations and delays Thursday. Chicago O’Hare International Airport on Thursday logged average delays of nearly three hours due to snow and ice.

Storm has bad timing

Airlines have issued waivers for winter weather that allow passengers to rebook at no charge within a limited time period. Find links to airline waivers and more air travel strategies here.

The increasing cancellations are making it more difficult for passengers fighting against the clock and the weather to rebook and arrive in time for Christmas. Flights this year were already more crowded than they have been in the past — even before the storm disrupted travel plans.

“We hear about how travel volume is still down, 5 or 10 percent, but what a lot of people may not have realized is that the number of flights in the sky is actually down more like 15 or 20 percent,” Scott Keyes of Scott’s Cheap Flights told CNN.

“The planes that are actually flying are more full today than they were pre-pandemic. That’s why there aren’t as many empty seats to switch to if you find out your flight is canceled or delayed,” Keyes said.

Train and bus traffic was also affected

Amtrak has also been forced to delay or cancel passenger service on some routes in the Midwest and Northeast.

Click here for details of rail service disruptions.

In its notice, Amtrak said “customers with reservations on trains that are modified will typically be accommodated on trains with similar departure times or on a different day.

“Amtrak will waive additional fees for customers who wish to change their reservation during the revised schedule by calling our reservation center at 1-800-USA-RAIL.”

Meanwhile, Greyhound, the largest provider of intercity bus service, issued a service alert Thursday evening indicating that trips in the Midwest or upper Northeast may be canceled or disrupted.

Greyhound said riders can call 1-833-233-8507 to change the schedule.

The winter weather also affects the services of the regional intercity bus company Jefferson Lines, which operates in 14 states.

In a notice posted on its website, the company said nearly 30 routes have been canceled for Friday, with a few cancellations listed for Saturday and Sunday. Cities affected by the cancellations include Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Duluth and Kansas City.
Affected travelers can consult Bus Tracker or call 1-858-800-8898.

A traveller’s story

Shane Phillips told CNN he was supposed to fly from Los Angeles to Seattle to visit family, but when he woke up Friday morning, his Alaska Airlines flight had been canceled.

This would be Phillips’ first time back to Washington State since before the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I’d say they’re (his family) upset, but they’re the ones experiencing the crazy weather, so they understand,” he said.

Phillips says he feels mostly disappointment, but not much surprise. “I knew the weather was going to be bad but I was hoping I’d get in before freezing rain fell,” he added.

Phillips’ family lives about two hours north of Seattle, so if he made it to the airport, he says he could have been stranded. “They totally shut down transit, so I’m not sure how I would have left the airport,” Phillips said.

Other airlines had flights available on Saturday, but Phillips said they were priced at $1,000 one way, “which is just too much.”

Phillips says he wants to make the best of things — as he now plans to attend a friend’s holiday party he would have missed if he had made it to Seattle.

Pete Muntean, Gregory Wallace, Rebekah Riess, Danielle Sills, Marnie Hunter, Ross Levitt, Dave Hennen, Paul P. Murphy, Carol Alvarado and Sara Smart contributed to this report.

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