Travlers waiting in security lines at Chicago's O'Hare airport (image credit Scott Olsen/Getty)
Ben Mutzabaugh, USA TODAY
A major winter storm is snarling flights in Chicago and elsewhere in the Midwest Thursday, a disruption that comes at the beginning of the busy Christmas travel rush.
Southwest, the nation's largest low-cost carrier, says it is canceling the "majority of our Thursday afternoon and evening flights" from both the Chicago Midway and Milwaukee airports. The airline also says it has canceled "many" of its morning and afternoon flights today to and from Kansas City.
Southwest is the top carrier at Chicago Midway and has a major presence at Milwaukee, where it also is the top carrier if flights at subsidiary AirTran are included. Southwest's cancellations will have a significant impact on flight schedules at both airports.
Southwest, like most other big airlines, has instituteda flexible rebooking policy that allows most customers flying into the storm's path to make one change free of charge.
But, for those who are sticking to plans to fly today, the Midwest is a trouble spot.
Flights bound for Chicago O'Hare - the USA's second-busiest airport - are facing delays of up two hours because of strong winds ahead of the storm, according to the Federal Aviation Administration's flight delay map.
The Chicago Department of Aviation says airlines have axed about 150 flights at the airport so far today because of "low visibility" and wind. That number seems certain to grow throughout the day. As of 11 a.m. CT, delays on departing flights are subject to delays of 30 to 45 minutes, though that number was increasing.
O'Hare is a major hub for both United and American, meaning this morning's disruption could ripple out and affect fliers at other airports.
Chicago's Midway Airport - a major base for Southwest - was suffering more sporadic delays and cancellations as of noon ET ET. About 30 flights have been canceled there so far according to the Chicago Department of Aviation, which adds delays at that airport have generally been "minor."
The problems come from a blizzard that's strengthening as it moves into the Midwest, and conditions are expected to deteriorate for air travelers today across much of the Midwest. That includes Chicago, where heavy rain is expected to switch to ice and snow sometime around 6 p.m. local time.
Already, the storm has snarled flights at several mid-sized Midwest airports. At Des Moines, for example, the airport's online flight information page shows that all but two of this morning's departures there have been canceled. At Omaha, more than a dozen of the airport's morning departures had been canceled as of 7 a.m. local time, according to FlightStats. However, the weather began to improve in both cities by late morning.