A massive winter storm hit the US with freezing rain and record-breaking snow Thursday, driving almost 5,000 US flight cancellations across the country – the highest daily count so far this year.
Southwest Airlines had canceled 30% of its flights – more than 1,000 flights – by 4 pm ET, while American Airlines had canceled more than 750 flights, roughly a quarter of its schedule. United and Delta each canceled more than 200 flights, according to flight tracker FlightAware.
Thursday’s disruptions follow more than 2,300 US flight cancellations on Wednesday.
“We’re doing our best to pre-cancel as many flights as possible, alerting customers right away so they can plan accordingly,” United Airlines said in an emailed statement.
American Airlines spokesperson Curtis Blessing said this week’s winter storm is having “a significant impact” on the airline’s operation, especially in the Northeast and Central parts of the country. The airline said it canceled “the vast majority” of impacted flights in advance.
“We apologize to our customers whose travel plans may be affected, and want to thank our team who are working tirelessly to help us safely care for our customers,” Blessing said in an email.
Allegiant spokesperson Sonya Padgett said the airline hopes the weather eases up “in the next day or two,” but warned there’s a chance more flights will be canceled if the stormy weather persists. Allegiant canceled more than 100 Thursday flights, roughly 29% of its schedule, according to FlightAware.
Travelers are advised to check their flight status before heading to the airport. If their flight was canceled, passengers can look into whether it is covered by a travel waiver, which will allow them to change flights without paying any additional fees.
By law, airlines are also required to offer customers refunds for flight cancellations, regardless of cause.
Travelers postpone plans due to storm
Jackie Custard-Jarosz of Buffalo, New York was supposed to fly into Las Vegas with her mom and sister on Thursday, a late Christmas gift to themselves that would let them trade the chilly northeastern weather for a long weekend of sunshine, concerts and shows on the Strip.
But plans will have to wait; Custard-Jarosz’s flight was one of the thousands canceled due to the winter storm.
“My sister’s upset. She’s a nurse, she works overnights, so she’s just been working her tail off throughout the last few months. … She’s ready for a break,” Custard-Jarosz told USA TODAY. “The days are short (in Buffalo), you don’t really do much in the wintertime, so just to get away for a little bit is nice, especially with COVID. Everybody needs a break from everything that’s been going on, but we ‘ll just have to stick it out a little longer.”
Custard-Jarosz noted the trio plan to rebook this spring once the weather is more reliable.
FLIGHT CANCELED OR DELAYED?:If so, these are your rights and what the airline owes you.
My flight was canceled – now what?
A number of airlines have issued travel waivers, allowing passengers affected by the storm to switch their flights with no penalty.
The airline issued several travel advisories this week, warning that flights “may be disrupted” because of weather. Advisories covered:
► Flights to, from and through various airports in New Mexico or Colorado scheduled for Tuesday or Wednesday.
► Flights to, from and through various airports in Texas, New York, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Missouri, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky, Kansas, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Arkansas or Pennsylvania scheduled Wednesday or Thursday.
► Flights to, from and through Dallas Love Field Airport on Friday.
► Flights to, from and through airports in Texas, Tennessee, Arkansas and Kentucky scheduled Wednesday through Friday.
Travelers can rebook a flight in their original class or travel standby within 14 days of the original travel date. The rebooked flight must be to and from the same cities to avoid any additional charges. Customers can reschedule online, on the Southwest app or by calling customer service at 1-800-435-9792.
The airline has issued two travel alerts for the winter storm.
► Passengers who had booked flights in, from and through various airports in New York, Pennsylvania, Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island as well as Montreal and Toronto, Canada can rebook a flight without a change fee if they had purchased their ticket by Feb. 1 for travel scheduled between Wednesday and Friday. The rebooked flight must take place on or before Feb. 7 and have the same origin and destination cities. Changes must be booked by Friday.
► Additionally, passengers who had booked flights in, from and through various airports in Ohio, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Michigan, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arkansas, Wisconsin and Tennessee can rebook a flight without a change fee if they had purchased their ticket by Jan. 31 for travel scheduled between Tuesday and Friday. The rebooked flight must take place on or before Tuesday and have the same origin and destination cities. Changes must be booked by Friday.
Travelers must rebook in the same cabin and the trip must be completed within one year of the original ticket date to avoid paying a difference in fare.
United has issued waivers for travelers across the country who may be affected by the winter storm.
► Travelers who had planned to fly between Wednesday and Friday can have their change fee waived if their flight was supposed to go to, from or through various airports in New York, Pennsylvania, Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Rhode Island as well as Quebec and Ontario, Canada. The original ticket must have been purchased by Jan. 30, and passengers can rebook flights scheduled between Jan. 31 and Feb. 7.
► Travelers who had purchased a plane ticket for travel between Tuesday and Thursday can have their change fee waived if they had purchased their original ticket by Jan. 29 for flights to, from and through various airports in Texas, Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Kansas, Arkansas, Indiana, New Mexico, Kentucky, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Colorado. Rebooked flights can take place between Jan. 30 and Feb. 6.
Delta Air Lines
Delta warns that winter weather may impact travel in various destinations in the US and Canada.
► Travelers scheduled to fly to, from or through various airports in Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Kansas between Wednesday and Friday can have their fare difference waived if they rebook travel that begins on or before Tuesday in the same cabin .
► Travelers scheduled to fly to, from or through various airports in New York, Maryland, Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington, DC and Ontario, Canada between Wednesday and Friday can have their fare difference waived if they rebook travel that begins on or before Tuesday in the same cabin.
► Travelers scheduled to fly to, from or through various airports in Colorado and New Mexico between Wednesday and Thursday can have their fare difference waived if they rebook travel that begins no later than Monday.
► Travelers scheduled to fly to, from or through various airports in Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky and Missouri between Wednesday and Thursday can have their fare difference waived if they rebook travel that begins no later than Monday.
The airline suggests travelers check their flight status “frequently” for up-to-date information on their flight plans.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Bailey Schulz on Twitter: @bailey_schulz.