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Winter storm cancels, delays thousands of flights, disrupting holiday travel

Thousands of flights were suspended on Thursday as the United States prepares for winter storms that are expected to hit large swaths of the country.

It’s also one of the busiest travel days of the season.

More than 3,100 flights in and out of the US have been delayed as of 12pm ET Thursday, according to flight tracking website FlightAware.

Southwest Airlines was the most disrupted of any major US airline, with 17% of flights canceled and another 15% delayed as of 12pm.

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On Wednesday, FlightAware reported more than 8,100 flight delays.

Chicago O'Hare airport passengers arriving for flight

Travelers arrive for a flight at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on December 16, 2022. (Scott Olson/Getty Images/Getty Images)

About 54 million passengers are expected to depart US airports over the Christmas and New Year holidays. Thursday and Friday are expected to be the busiest travel days of the holiday season, with 3.34 million passengers expected to depart each day, according to travel app Hopper.

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Forecasters expect severe weather, consisting of heavy snow, ice, flooding and high winds, to hit various parts of the United States from the Plains and Midwest to the East Coast as early as Thursday. It’s expected to last through Saturday, after which the Arctic air surges.

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Southwest Airlines, American Airlines, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines have already issued travel waivers in various parts of the country in case travelers’ flights are disrupted. This means that change fees and fare differences for certain flights affected by inclement weather are waived by the airline.

airport christmas tree

A family walks past a Christmas tree as they check in their bags for a flight at Logan International Airport in Boston on Monday, November 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa / AP Newsroom)

FlightAware spokesperson Kathleen Bangs said the 2021 travel season has the highest cancellation rate of over 5% in the past decade. This was “partly due to adverse weather conditions, including major storms in the Pacific Northwest, but primarily due to high absenteeism among airline and airport employees due to the widespread Omicron variant of COVID-19,” she said. said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.