US airlines are expecting a “major” winter weather system to disrupt aviation across the country later this week, as millions of passengers are due to travel for year-end holidays.
Forecast inclement weather has prompted United Airlines to enact travel waivers affecting 142 of its 210 US destinations – about two-thirds of the US cities to which it flies. Last week, United said it expects to carry 8.3 million passengers during the period from around Christmas through the new year.
Travel waivers generally allow passengers to rebook tickets at no extra cost.
“Our operations team continues to monitor weather developments and will make adjustments to our schedule as needed,” the carrier said on 20 December.
The waivers cover cities nationwide, including those in a wide swath of the Midwest and Northeast. Of 48 continental US states, only 11 are unaffected. More than 50 million people are currently under winter storm advisories.
The US National Weather Service (NWS) said on 20 December, “A surge of Arctic air behind a cold front crossing the US through the week will bring widespread, dangerous wind chill temperatures through much of the central US and a potential flash freeze from the mid-South to the East Coast. A major winter storm will form on this front bringing heavy snow and high winds, creating blizzard conditions for parts of the Plains into the Great Lakes.”
Fort Worth-based American Airlines, meanwhile, has implemented weather waivers to 58 destinations across the USA. Delta Air Lines says travel to 45 of its destinations can be rescheduled at no charge.
The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which handles security checkpoints at about 450 airports across the country, said on 19 December it anticipates airport checkpoints during the end-of-year period to be “close to pre-pandemic levels”. It expects the busiest days for travel to be 22 December and 30 December.
So far in 2022, the busiest travel day was 27 November, the Sunday after the Thanksgiving holiday, with 2,560,623 passengers screened.
“During the Thanksgiving travel period, we saw the highest throughput volume since 2019, and we expect that trend to continue over the upcoming holiday travel period,” says TSA Administrator David Pekoske. “We are prepared for the increased volume and expect to meet our wait time standards of 30 minutes or less in standard lanes and 10 minutes or less in TSA PreCheck lanes. However, there may be some situations where the capacity of a checkpoint is exceeded.”