Holiday travelers, including Santa, (aka Donald Occimio of Mesa, Ariz.) check in for their Southwest Airlines flight at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix during last year's (2011) travel season.(Photo: By Tom Tingle, The Arizona Republic)
Air travelers getting an early start on Christmas travel could run
into turbulence thanks to a major winter storm that is expected to
affect several of the USA's busiest air hubs during the next 72 hours.
storm, developing now east of the Rockies, has spawned blizzard
warnings for at least a half-dozen states and is forecast to bring
blustery weather to the Northeast by the weekend.
Three of the nation's major airlines - United, Southwest and Frontier
- were among the first to respond to the storm's threat by early
Wednesday, enacting flexible rebooking policies for fliers scheduled to
fly into the storm's path.
Denver already is suffering minor
flight delays this morning (Wednesday) as a result of the storm. Flights
at the airport - a major base for three big airlines (United, Frontier
and Southwest) - were being delayed by an average of 27 minutes as of 11
a.m. ET (9 a.m. MT) because of "snow-ice," according to the Federal Aviation Administration's airport delay map.
and wind are expected to continue in the Denver area through early
afternoon today (Wednesday), which could create minor to moderate delays
into the evening.
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However, worse flight delays are expected to develop as the storm intensifies and moves to the east.
in the storm's path: parts of the upper Midwest, where blizzard
conditions could disrupt flights today at small and mid-sized airports,
such as Omaha and Des Moines.
By Thursday, Chicago and its busy
O'Hare and Midway airports are predicted to feel the storm's effects.
Only a few inches of snow are forecast for the Chicago region, but a
bigger concern looms in the expected reduced visibility and strong winds
forecast to accompany the precipitation.
O'Hare is a major hub
for both American and United while Midway is one of the top bases for
Southwest. If the forecasts hold, both airports are at risk of having
significant delays developing Thursday and lasting into Friday.
Blizzard conditions also could snarl flights in Wisconsin on Thursday, possibly affecting Milwaukee, Madison and Green Bay.
one of Delta's busiest hubs, is expected to see rainy, windy conditions
starting Thursday, but the biggest threat to that airport comes Friday.
That's when the precipitation is forecast to switch to snow, though
accumulations are expected to be modest. Detroit's airport typically
handles winter weather well, but travelers flying to, from or through
the city should monitor conditions and check ahead on the status of
Similar advice applies to fliers passing through Cleveland, a busy hub for United, which faces a similar forecast for Friday.
the edge of the storm forecast to move into the Northeast by Friday,
the main concern for air travelers will turn to New York. Snow is not
yet in the forecast there, but the predicted gusty winds, clouds and
occasional rain are a bad mix for the metro area's delay-prone
LaGuardia, JFK and Newark airports. Forecast winds also would bring the
risk of sporadic delays at those airports on Saturday.
Even ahead of the storm's arrival, the FAA reported
Newark flights were being delayed by an average of 52 minutes as of 11
a.m. ET this morning because of winds gusting up to 25 mph. Winds also
could disrupt flights Friday and Saturday in Philadelphia.
Atlanta, travelers flying through the world's busiest airport on
Thursday should pay attention to a line of thunderstorms that are
expected to develop ahead of the winter storm as it moves East.
greatest risk from those storms is expected to come early to mid-day
Thursday. However, the delay threat depends on whether the storms
develop into a north-south "line" long and solid enough to block flight
paths west of Atlanta.
As always, customers flying over the busy
Christmas holiday travel period should check ahead on the status of
their flight, and keep in mind that fair skies at their destination
don't mean that they're immune from weather delays. For example, a
flight from St. Louis to Houston could become delayed or canceled if the
aircraft or crews scheduled to operate the flight gets stuck in snowy