Mother Nature is making for a messy start to the long weekend.
Snow in the Midwest is fueling air travel headaches at Chicago’s major airports and threatens to cause residual disruptions throughout the country.
With additional bad weather expected on the East Coast, flight delays and cancellations could continue to pile up Friday into Saturday.
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As of late morning Friday, airlines had canceled nearly 1,900 flights nationwide, according to data from FlightAware.
The weather-induced problems are only making matters worse as two major U.S. airlines continue to work around the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft in the wake of an emergency on an Alaska Airlines flight one week ago.
As of 11:15 a.m. EST Friday, there were hundreds of cancellations at both Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD) and Midway Airport (MDW) — including 650 cancellations alone at O’Hare.
The Federal Aviation Administration put a ground stop in place for a period on Friday morning at O’Hare, halting takeoffs and landings amid the storm. Once operations resumed, the FAA estimated delays of at least two hours due to snow and ice.
Southwest Airlines has been the hardest-hit U.S. airline. The Dallas-based carrier has canceled at least 385 flights, and counting — about 9% of its operation. Hundreds more flights have encountered delays.
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The bad weather will test Southwest’s operation at its major Midway hub, where the carrier has bolstered its winter weather ground equipment in an effort to avoid the sort of meltdown that precipitated its December 2022 operational meltdown.
Southwest isn’t alone, though.
Regional carrier Skywest, which operates flights under the umbrella of American, Delta, United and Alaska Airlines, had canceled nearly 330 flights by late morning Friday.
With high winds causing lengthy delays in parts of Texas and additional winter weather in parts of the country this weekend, the FAA cautioned it could be a messy few days for air travel.
Disruptions mount amid 737 MAX 9 grounding
Friday’s weather-related disruptions are just the latest air travel-related hurdle this week.
Alaska and United Airlines have had to cancel hundreds of daily flights since each operates sizable fleets of 737 MAX 9 aircraft — planes that currently cannot fly as Boeing, the airlines and the FAA investigate whether other such jets might be at risk for the blowout that left an emergency exit-size opening on an Alaska flight last Friday.
With no end to the grounding in sight, Alaska and United’s operations have taken a hit, with disruptions this week at key hubs like Alaska’s home base at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) and at United’s busy hub at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR). Throw in the weather in the Midwest, where United also operates a hub at O’Hare, where Friday’s weather is making operations more challenging.
As of 11:15 a.m. EST Friday, United had canceled around 10% of its flight schedule, marginally higher than the 7% to 9% of daily flights the carrier canceled earlier this week.
What should you do if your flight is canceled?
Unfortunately for travelers, weather-related disruptions don’t leave a ton of options.
When Mother Nature is responsible for a cancellation or delay, the airline typically isn’t on the hook to pay, for instance, for an extra hotel night in the event that you get stranded. If you do incur costs, check to see if you booked your trip with a travel credit card that includes trip insurance protections; this could help offset some of the unexpected expenses.
That being said, some airlines have put travel waivers in place that make it easier to change your itinerary with no penalty. Southwest, for one, has issued a waiver that travelers more flexibility for flights in and out of nearly a dozen Midwest airports, where winter weather is expected to disrupt operations into the weekend.
Plus, keep in mind, under federal regulations, you’re entitled to a refund if your flight is canceled or significantly delayed and you ultimately choose not to travel.