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Thousands of Flights Across the US Cancelled Due to Inclement Weather — Stranding Travelers and Disrupting Holiday Rush

Alina Wang
A native of New York, Alina has a Bachelors degree in Corporate Communications from Baruch College and writes about human rights, politics, tech, and society.
Published: December 28, 2022
Travelers in Amsterdam, Netherlands on September 13, 2022 after Schiphol Airport asked a number of airlines to cancel flights due to a shortage of security personnel. (Image: SEM VAN DER WAL/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

It’s that time of year again – the holiday travel rush is upon us and airports are bustling with travelers trying to make it to their destination to celebrate with loved ones. However, a brutal snow storm battering across the Midwest has stranded thousands of flyers — threatening to derail one of the busiest times of the year. 

On Friday, Dec. 23, more than 4,600 flights were cancelled, following nearly 3,200 cancellations on Thursday, flight tracking site FlightAware found.

Shoppers brave the weather in downtown Birmingham, Michigan on December 23, 2022. A historic and brutal winter storm put some 240 million Americans under weather warnings Friday as the United States faced holiday travel chaos, with thousands of flights cancelled and major highways closed. (Image: JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images)

Thursday’s cancellations represented about 11 percent of US-based carriers’ scheduled flights, according to FlightAware, with nearly half of those flights experiencing some kind of delay.

The airports experiencing the highest cancellations were: Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, New York’s LaGuardia and O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, according to data compiled by FlightAware. 

On Monday, Dec. 26, Southwest Airlines cancelled nearly 3,000 flights — accounting for about 60 percent of its flight schedule, FlightAware found. On Tuesday, the Texas-based company cancelled another 2,500 flights — accounting for nearly 87 percent of its flights within the U.S.

The number of cancelled flights for Southwest was more than 10 times higher than Delta — which saw the second-most cancellations — scrapping 265 flights on Monday. Budget airline, Spirit, came in third place — with nearly 63 percent of all its flights cancelled.

Southwest spokesperson Chris Perry said the airline’s disruptions were a result of weather factors and overbooking. Perry said he hopes to “stabilize and improve its fleet operation” as more favorable weather conditions are expected over the New Year weekend.

“We recognized we’re falling short,” Southwest said in a statement released on Monday, Dec. 26.

On Dec. 23, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) posted notices notifying travelers of ground stops for flights bound for Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina, and Reagan National Airport near Washington, DC due to deicing and safety protocols. 

Meanwhile, in the Pacific Northwest, FAA notices showed flights bound to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and Portland International Airport were also running with delays due to snow and ice.

USDOT: Cancellations ‘unacceptable’

Following the cancellations, thousands of travelers were stranded in airports all over the country as airlines scrambled to try and rebook flyers on alternate flights, or issue refunds for the cancellations. The U.S. Department of Transportation called Southwest’s bulk cancellations, delays, and lack of customer service “unacceptable,” and said it would launch an investigation into the airline’s ticketing services.

Across the country, almost every airline saw delays in some capacity — with large-scale cancellations being blamed on a range of issues from bad weather, overbooking, and a lack of staff at nearly every major airport.

“The Department will examine whether cancellations were controllable and if Southwest is complying with its customer service plan,” USDOT said in a statement released on Tuesday, Dec. 27.

What to do if your flight is delayed or cancelled

There are many reasons why a flight might be cancelled, including issues with the aircraft, crew availability, and bad weather. 

The flight status screen flashes “Cancelled” notices at Dulles International Airport (IAD), Virginia near Washington, DC February 13, 2014. (Image: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images)

If your flight is cancelled, it can be a stressful and overwhelming experience, especially if you have plans and commitments at your destination. Here are a few steps you can take to minimize the disruption and get back on track:

  • Contact the airline: If your flight is cancelled, the first thing you should do is contact the airline to find out what your options are. They may be able to rebook you on a later flight, or you may be able to get a refund if you no longer wish to travel.
  • Check for other options: If the airline is unable to rebook you on a flight that works for you, it’s a good idea to check for other options, such as flights on other airlines or ground transportation options. Keep in mind that during the holiday travel rush, flights and transportation may be fully booked, so it’s a good idea to act quickly.
  • Consider travel insurance: If you have travel insurance, now is the time to use it. Travel insurance can help cover the costs of unexpected trip cancellations or delays, such as the cost of a hotel room or additional transportation.
  • Be prepared for the unexpected: While it’s always best to be prepared, it’s especially important during the holiday travel rush. Make sure you have all necessary documents, such as your passport or ID, and have a plan in case your flight is cancelled or delayed. Consider packing a small bag with essentials, such as snacks, water, and a change of clothes, in case you find yourself stuck somewhere unexpectedly.
  • Check the weather forecast: Before you head to the airport, be sure to check the weather forecast for your destination and the airports along your route. This will help you determine if there is a chance of your flight being cancelled or delayed due to wintry weather.
  • Contact the airline: If you see that a cold front is heading towards your destination and you’re worried about your flight being cancelled, it’s a good idea to contact the airline. They may be able to provide you with more information about any potential delays or cancellations and help you rebook your flight if necessary.

Dealing with a cancelled flight during the holiday travel rush can be frustrating, but by following these steps and staying calm, you can minimize the disruption and get back on track.