Severe winter weather, including snow and bitter cold is snarling air travel from the upper midwestern U.S. to Georgia this week.
Temperatures will remain well below zero degrees Fahrenheit in the Chicago area on Wednesday and early Thursday with “dangerously cold wind chills” of as low as minus 50, the National Weather Service said.
Airlines canceled more than 850 flights scheduled to fly to or from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on Wednesday, about a third of the day’s schedule at the American Airlines and United Airlines hub. Nearly 70 percent of the flights, or about 330 were canceled at Chicago Midway Airport on Wednesday.
American said “extreme temperatures” and a winter storm that’s hitting the Northeast on Tuesday evening, prompted it to cancel 225 Tuesday flights and 185 on Wednesday, including 75 from O’Hare.
Delta Air Lines, American, United, Spirit Airlines and JetBlue Airways said they would waive date-change fees for travelers affected by the severe weather. Southwest Airlines, which doesn’t have date-change fees, said it wouldn’t charge travelers booked in and out of more than two dozen U.S. airports the fare difference to fly at a later date due to the extreme weather.
While aircraft can take generally take off in low temperatures, the bitter cold limits how long ground workers can remain loading baggage or servicing aircraft.
Delta, which operates hubs in Minneapolis and Detroit, is preparing for the frigid conditions by increasing staffing of ground workers more employees can take more frequent breaks indoors, as well as moving some aircraft into heated hangars overnight, said spokesman Michael Thomas.
The cold follows strong winter storms that brought snow and heavy rain across a broad swath of the U.S. Some 300 flights in and out of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Delta’s home hub and the world’s busiest airport, were canceled on Tuesday.