Airways are canceling 17,000 flights as a consequence of extreme winter climate however disruptions are easing

Planes are de-iced at General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee


Flight cancellations continued to fall on Monday, but disruptions from severe winter weather across the US continued into the end of the Christmas weekend.

According to FlightAware, airlines have canceled more than 17,000 U.S. flights since Wednesday as storms brought snow, ice, high winds and bitter cold across the country, disrupting coast-to-coast air travel. These conditions slowed ground crews as they faced difficult conditions at airports.

Airlines are likely to detail the cost of the disruptions when they report the results next month, if not sooner.

Southwest Airlines was hit particularly hard by winter storms during the holiday travel season, along with other problems including unexpected fog in San Diego and staff shortages at a Denver fuel distributor, the airline’s chief operating officer told employees.

Southwest has proactively canceled many flights to stabilize its operations, COO Andrew Watterson said. From Wednesday through Saturday, about a quarter of Southwest’s flights were canceled and two-thirds delayed, according to FlightAware data.

The airline apologized to staff for the chaos, which left many struggling to reach crew scheduling services, making it harder to make reassignments or other changes, or get hotel rooms. Southwest also offered extra pay to flight attendants who worked past the holiday.

“Part of what we suffer is a lack of tools,” Southwest CEO Bob Jordan said in a message to employees Sunday. “We have spoken a great deal about modernizing operations and the need to do so. And crew planning is one of the areas where we need to invest. We need to be able to produce solutions faster.”

Airlines are often proactive in canceling flights during bad weather to avoid leaving planes, crews and customers out of place, problems that can complicate recovery after a storm.

Airlines were also planning smaller flight schedules for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day compared to the days leading up to the holiday, making it harder for them to rebook travelers on other flights, and bookings had skyrocketed.

Passengers check in at the Delta counter at Detroit Metro Airport in Romulus, Michigan, December 22, 2022.

Jeff Kowalski | AFP | Getty Images

More than 1,700 flights were canceled and 2,200 others delayed on Monday, up from nearly 3,200 canceled flights and 7,700 delayed US flights on Sunday.

Delta Airlines, American Airlines, United Airlines, JetBlue Airways and Alaska Airlines were among the other transport companies affected by the weather.

A spokeswoman for American Airlines said the “vast majority of our customers affected by cancellations have been rebooked.”

Delta “sees a steady recovery in our operations and expects improvements to continue over the next few hours,” a spokesman said Monday.

However, passengers also faced delayed baggage.

Bill Weaver, 41, said he, his wife and five children drove from Wichita, Kansas, to Dallas Fort Worth International Airport to fly to Cancun on Friday after their connecting flight to the American Airlines hub was cancelled. American Airlines flight to Cancun arrived on time, but their luggage didn’t arrive in Cancun until Monday and hadn’t made it to their hotel by mid-morning, so they had to spend hundreds of dollars to buy clothes and other essentials in their hotel.

Weaver, who works in software sales, said he used to travel a lot.

“I’m used to missing bags and things happen, but this is by far the worst thing I’ve ever seen,” he said.

Extreme cold and high winds slowed ground operations at dozens of airports. According to FlightAware, more than half of U.S. airline flights from Thursday through Saturday arrived with delays, averaging 81 minutes late.

“Temperatures have dropped so low that our equipment and infrastructure have been affected, from frozen lava systems and fuel hoses to broken towbars,” United Airlines said in a message to pilots on Saturday. “Pilots have encountered frozen locks when attempting to re-enter the jet bridge after a tour.”

The FAA said it had to evacuate its tower at United’s hub at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey because of a leak Saturday.

JetBlue, meanwhile, offered flight attendants triple pay to pick up flights on Christmas Eve due to staff shortages.

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