More than 4,500 flights canceled as winter storms slam Midwest, southern U.S.

Keywords Airlines / Airports / Travel

Airlines canceled more than 2,000 flights Wednesday as a major winter storm prompted weather watches and warnings from New Mexico to Maine.

In a sign that the storm’s effects could extend for days, carriers already have scrubbed more than 2,600 flights scheduled for Thursday, including 92 percent of those at Dallas’s Love Field. By comparison, 254 U.S. flights were canceled Tuesday.

The storm is the latest wintry headache for an industry that spent part of December and January recovering from several thousand canceled flights amid heavy snow and staffing shortages fueled by the omicron variant. Carriers have mostly recovered and in recent days have signaled enthusiasm for travel two years into the pandemic.

The most recent storm moving across the country dumped a half-foot of snow in Denver, Chicago and other parts of the Plains and Midwest. Forecasters say St. Louis, Indianapolis, Detroit and Toledo could be hit by more than 10 inches through Thursday.

On Wednesday, Southwest, SkyWest and American airlines were among the carriers with the most cancellations.

Southwest scrubbed 447 flights, roughly 13% of its departures, while regional carrier SkyWest canceled 284, or 13%, of those scheduled. American canceled 245 flights, about 8% of its departures.

Among the airports most affected were Chicago’s O’Hare International, St. Louis’s Lambert International and Dallas-Fort Worth International. At Lambert, 78% of flights were canceled Wednesday.

U.S. carriers have had a rocky start to 2022. A surge in coronavirus infections fueled by the omicron variant led to staffing shortages that made it difficult to rebound from winter storms. During the first three weeks of January, Southwest said roughly 5,000 of its employees tested positive for the coronavirus. In recent weeks, however, carriers said their operations have stabilized as the number of positive cases has dropped.

Even so, carriers including Alaska Airlines, American, Southwest and United Airlines announced they would temporarily reduce their schedules. While the omicron variant had dampened enthusiasm for travel, carriers said they expect demand to rebound in March.

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