'Extreme cold' grounds hundreds of flights in Midwest

The latest wave of extreme cold is creating headaches for fliers at several Midwestern airports this morning, forcing at least 300 flight cancellations and prompting the nation's second-biggest carrier to waive change fees at some airports.

Nationwide, nearly 700 flights had been canceled as of 7:30 a.m. ET. Flight-tracking serviceFlightAware.com shows that more than a third of that tally comes from just three airports: Chicago O'Hare, Chicago Midway and Cleveland.

The temperatures in those cities as of 7:40 a.m. ET: 0° in Cleveland and 1° in Chicago, according to The Weather Channel. The wind chill in both cities was 18 below.

At Chicago O'Hare, 200 departures and nearly as many arrivals had been canceled as of 7:30 a.m. ET. FlightAware says that accounts for about 16% of the scheduled departures for the airport, a hub for both United and American.

Across town, Southwest Airlines had reduced its schedule this morning at Chicago Midway, where it is the dominant carrier.

"With temperatures so low, we have to protect our employees and reduce the time they are out in the elements," Southwest spokesman Whitney Eichenger says in an e-mail to Today in the Sky. "That reduced the number of aircraft we can turn. We are canceling flights due to extreme cold."

About 7% of today's departures and 15% of today's arrivals have been canceled at Midway, according to FlightAware.

Eichinger says a small number of flights have also been canceled in Milwaukee, where the temperature was -3° -- with a wind chill of -25° -- as of 7:40 a.m. ET.

In Cleveland – a hub for United – nearly 75 departures had been preemptively canceled as of 7:40 a.m. ET. That represents about 30% of the airport's departure schedule, according to FlightAware.

While the disruptions from the cold weather will hit the hardest in the Midwest, fliers in other parts of the nation would be affected as well.

A flight from Houston to Orlando, for example, could become delayed or canceled if the aircraft or crew scheduled to fly it gets knocked off schedule by the disruptions in frigid Chicago.

United, which operates hubs at both Chicago and Cleveland, is waiving its change fees for fliers booked to fly through nine Midwestern airports between Jan. 26. and Jan. 28. Restrictions apply, but – generally – the waivers allow customers to make one change to their ticketed itinerary without incurring rebooking fares or a change in fare.

United's waiver covers passengers headed to, from or through Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus (Ohio), Detroit, Indianapolis, Madison (Wis.), Milwaukee, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Peoria (Ill.).

Additionally, United is waiving rebooking fees for passengers traveling through its hub in Denver, where snow is in the forecast. More than 60 flights – 30 departures and 36 arrivals – had been canceled on all airlines in Denver as of 7:40 a.m. ET, according to FlightAware.


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