Major Airlines Have Now Canceled Over 2,000 Flights—Here's How You Should Prepare

Holiday travel plans are at risk as severe weather snarls travel across the U.S.

Air travel can already feel like a hectic experience on a typical day when you consider all the stress that comes with getting to the airport, passing through security, and making it to your flight on time. Unfortunately, the holiday season sees a boom in passengers that can make the experience even worse. But this year, a major weather event is creating even more chaos as major airlines have canceled over 2,000 flights leading into the weekend. Read on to see how you should prepare for any sudden travel changes.

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A severe weather event is impacting travel across much of the U.S.

A car driving behind a snow plow on a snowy road during a blizzard
iStock / CasarsaGuru

Holiday travel can generate its own issues in the form of traffic jams and overbooked flights. But this year, nature is dealing its own heavy blow to anyone hoping to get out of town for the holiday weekend.

A massive "once-in-a-generation" winter storm is making its way across the U.S., bringing freezing temperatures and blizzard conditions as the system moves east. Earlier this week, cities on the West Coast felt the initial brunt of the "bomb cyclone" as stormy conditions brought about waves of flight cancelations and delays. Now, major travel hubs in the Midwest, such as Chicago, Minneapolis, and Detroit are experiencing their own travel snarls, The Washington Post reports. As of the morning of Dec. 22, a total of 1,774 flights had been canceled and another 3,123 delayed for the day nationwide, according to FlightAware. So far, 843 have also been canceled on Dec. 23.

And the worst doesn't appear to be over yet. The storm is expected to continue its path through the Northeast, impacting flights in and out of major hubs, including New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., The New York Times reports.

"It's going to get pretty tough," West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said during a press briefing on Dec. 22. "That's all there is to it."

Airlines are already offering passengers the ability to change or cancel their flights.

Airliner on runway in blizzard. Aircraft during taxiing during heavy snow. Passenger plane in snow at airport. Modern twin-engine passenger airplane taxiing for take off at airport during snow blizzard
iStock

If you're worried about being stuck in the "bomb cyclone's" crosshairs, there might still be an option for you as the storm continues its crawl. Almost all major airlines have decided to activate travel waivers for any passengers who might have their plans affected by the severe weather. So far, this includes Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, JetBlue, Alaska Airlines, and Spirit Airlines, CNN reports.

While details are different for each airline and depend on your destination, where you're leaving, and travel dates, the waivers will typically allow travelers to change their flight free of charge. Some carriers are also offering to waive any fare differences for rescheduled reservations.

Experts say anyone traveling before the weekend should keep checking their flight status and decide on the best strategy for their plans. "One of the things you can do as a traveler is make that switch as soon as possible," Scott Keyes, travel expert and founder of Scott's Cheap Flights, told CNN. However, he also added that a boom in passengers this year had surpassed pre-pandemic levels, meaning rebooking will be even more difficult than usual—especially if you wait.

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There are a few things you can do if your flight gets canceled or delayed.

flight cancellations displayed at airport
People Image Studio / Shutterstock

Finding out that your flight is canceled is a trying experience any time of the year, but the added pressure of getting where you need to be for the holidays can make the experience even worse. But if you happen to find yourself stuck in the airport, experts say there are a few ways to better your odds of eventually getting out.

Perhaps not surprisingly, one of the best solutions is to get in front of a ticket agent as soon as it's announced your plane is grounded. "It's going to make a difference who arrives first. It's first-come, first-serve," Keyes previously told CNN Travel. "Positioning yourself close to the desk can pay off."

But the gate agent isn't the only option: You should also get on the line with a phone representative or use a company's text-based customer service line to get yourself rebooked. However, there's a trick to beating the system when cancelations are happening en masse. "Just because you are flying domestic doesn't mean the exact same scenario is affecting other parts of the world," Katy Nastro, a travel expert with Scott's Cheap Flights, told Travel + Leisure. "So while everyone might be trying the U.S. customer service line, you'll most likely get to an agent faster by trying one of the foreign lines where the agents can help you all the same."

Once you get to speak to someone, remember to stay calm and polite while assessing your options—which might even include your carrier booking you on a different airline altogether. "For instance, if your United flight from Chicago to NYC gets canceled and the airline doesn't have any empty seats until the next day, see if they will put you on, say, an American flight," Nastro told Travel + Leisure. "While there's no guarantee, it never hurts to ask, especially if getting rebooked—free of charge—would save you a half-day or more of waiting."

It's important to know your rights if you're left stranded.

Distraught woman sits in airport while travelers pass her after realizing she forgot her passport.
iStock

Unfortunately, severe weather sometimes means that no amount of deft rebooking or rescheduling will get you where you need to be on time. But that doesn't mean you still can't make the most out of a bad situation.

While there are no federal rules or regulations in place to protect passengers in the moment, officials are making it more convenient to check what you could be owed in the event of a travel mishap. This past summer, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) launched an airline customer service dashboard that makes it easy to check what each carrier offers stranded passengers. Depending on who you're flying, you may be eligible for free rebookings with other airlines, meal vouchers, hotel accommodations, and even ground transportation costs to a hotel.

At the very least, you could stand to get your money back. "Remember these commitments do not impact your entitlement to a refund," the agency writes on its website. "If an airline cancels a passenger's flight or makes a significant change in the flight, regardless of the reason, airlines are required to provide a prompt refund to a ticketed passenger, including those with non-refundable tickets, should the passenger choose not to accept the alternative offered, such as rebooking on another flight."

But you might still be covered even if you're flying an airline with less-than-stellar customer service promises. Some major credit cards offer trip protection that can cover the cost of hotels, meals, and transportation in the event of cancelations or delays, Business Insider reports. Check whether or not you can get reimbursed if you find yourself needing to shell out for an extra car ride or a place to stay for the night.

Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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