A major winter storm is expected to produce damaging winds and drop feet of snow in many locations this week, and with the Christmas holiday travel season in full effect, the timing couldn’t be worse.
The massive winter storm will impact tens of millions of Americans across the Midwest, Great Lakes and Northeast starting on Wednesday, with the peak impacts expected from Thursday through early Saturday (Christmas Eve).
Blizzard conditions are expected in parts of the Midwest and Great Lakes on Thursday and Friday, leading to devastating impacts on holiday travel, including the potential for prolonged flight delays or numerous cancellations.
Airlines are going ‘all hands on deck’ to prepare for major winter storm
FILE - A Delta Airlines jet is de-iced at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport near St. Paul, Minn. on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. (John Autey/MediaNews Group/St. Paul Pioneer Press / Getty Images)
Airlines have started doing whatever they can in anticipation of the major winter storm brewing for later this week.
"The airlines are basically going all hands on deck," said senior aviation business reporter for The Points Guy David Slotnick. "They’re calling as many staffers as they can. They’re trying to have crews ready. They’re trying to get deicing crews ready to keep as many planes running as they can."
And with the likelihood of flight delays and cancellations increasing in the Midwest and around the Great Lakes, it will have a ripple effect across the country.
Because of the country’s geography, major cities such as New York City, Boston, Miami and Los Angeles can have a beautiful, sunny day, yet winter weather in places like Chicago and Detroit can keep planes grounded and prevent them from getting to other major airports.
Should I change or cancel my flight due to the major winter storm over the holiday weekend?
FILE - Travelers check in for their flight at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, on November 22, 2022. (KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP / Getty Images)
Be aware: Just because airlines are preparing for the worst with this incoming high-impact winter storm, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make preparations on your end.
"So, the airlines, a lot of the times, put change waivers into effect," Slotnick said. "That mean’s there’s no fare difference if you need to move your flight."
Slotnick said the best thing you can do if you’re flying over the Christmas holiday is to do it sooner rather than later.
"You know, head out Tuesday or Wednesday instead of Thursday or Friday," he said. "You know, just having fewer people, having that travel kind of spaced out, that really makes a big difference. And that helps."
But if you don’t have the flexibility of changing your flight to leave early, you’ll want to keep an eye on your reservation.
"You know, you might see a proactive cancellation or a proactive delay or flight change," Slotnick said. "And you might be able to deal with that yourself at home through the app. You might be able to avoid a long line at the airport. It’s really just a matter of sort of taking control into your own hands and sort of waiting really for the last minute at the airport."
What happens if I’m at the airport and the winter storm forces my airline to cancel my flight?
FILE - A screen of departing flights shows mass cancellations at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on Thursday March 05, 2015 in Arlington, VA. (Matt McClain/ The Washington Post / Getty Images)
It’s frustrating if you’re already at the airport when an issue, like this major winter storm in the Midwest and Great Lakes, forces an airline to cancel or delay a flight.
But you have options.
"You’re empowered a lot these days through the airline app," Slotnick said. "So, you can change a lot by yourself once you’re delayed. A lot of the times (airlines) end up waiving a lot of the cancellation fees or penalties or anything like that."
So if you find yourself in that situation, save the stress by skipping the ticket counter and opening your airline’s app.
"See if there’s anything you can do first," Slotnick said. "It really, that’s just the best way to make sure you can avoid the worst of a situation."
Which airports have the highest chance of delays and cancellations due to the impending winter storm?
FILE - Travelers look at flight timetables displayed on a departure board at Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA) in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., on Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022.(Samuel Corum/Bloomberg / Getty Images)
Several airports in the Midwest and around the Great Lakes are likely to see delays and cancellations due to the impacts of this impending winter storm.
The following is a list of major airports in the region, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there will be significant flight delays or cancellations.
As always, contact your airline directly for information on any possible issues with your flight before heading to the airport:
- MSP: Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport
- MCI: Kansas City International Airport
- STL: St. Louis Lambert International Airport
- ORD: Chicago O'Hare International Airport
- MDW: Chicago Midway International Airport
- DTW: Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport
- CLE: Cleveland Hopkins International Airport
- IND: Indianapolis International Airport
- CVG: Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport
Are any airlines offering to waive fees ahead of the impending winter storm?
FILE - A United Airlines plane is seen as runway covered with snow at Newark Liberty International Airport on January 7, 2022 in New Jersey. (Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency / Getty Images)
As Slotnick stated, many airlines will offer to waive fees associated with changing or canceling a flight when a major winter storm, like the one headed to parts of the Midwest and Great Lakes later this week, is predicted.
So far, three major airlines have started to issue travel advisories and will waive some associated fees.
American Airlines has issued a travel alert for several destinations across the Midwest. Some locations are Des Moines, Iowa, Green Bay, Wisconsin, Kansas City, Missouri, Chicago O'Hare and many others.
Head to their website for a full list of cities and other important information.
United Airlines has also announced it will waive fees for passengers traveling to or from dozens of airports across the Midwest in advance of the impending winter storm.
Check out their website for the most up-to-date information.
On Monday afternoon, Southwest Airlines was the most recent airline to announce it would waive fees associated with changing flights because of the winter storm.
So far, 12 airports in the Midwest are included, so check out their website for the most current information.
Because of the winter storm, JetBlue has announced it will waive change and cancel fees and fare differences for customers traveling on Wednesday, December 21 through Friday, December 23 to and from Chicago (ORD), Kansas City (MCI), Milwaukee (MKE) and Minneapolis/St. Paul (MSP).
Check out their website for the most current information.