Photographer: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Icy Weather Snarls Holiday Travel for Thousands of U.S. Fliers

  • Hubs including Denver, Chicago and Washington feel effects
  • Delays, cancellations disrupt start of Christmas traffic peak

Freezing rain and snow disrupted more than 7,000 flights across the U.S. ahead of the Christmas-season traffic peak, slowing thousands of travelers with delays and cancellations centered on airports in Denver, Chicago and Washington.

United Continental Holdings Inc. and Southwest Airlines Co.were among the hardest-hit carriers, according to industry data tracker Each has a major base in all three markets, and snags also rippled into United’s hub at New Jersey’s Newark Liberty Airport.

The winter weather slapped the airline industry just as traffic began building for the 21-day holiday period that began Dec. 16. Trade group Airlines for America predicts a 3.5 percent increase in passengers during the period from a year earlier, to 45 million.

Tardy flights topped 5,100 in the U.S. at 6:30 p.m. New York time, FlightAware said, in addition to almost 2,200 flights that had been scrubbed. That tally probably will increase because the evening forecast at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport -- a hub for United and American Airlines Group Inc. -- called for continued clouds and snow showers. Sunday will be sunny and clear in Chicago, according to

In Washington, freezing rain brought Dulles International Airport, a United hub for overseas flights, to a temporary standstill. The airport closed its runways for three hours Saturday morning. United, American and Delta Air Lines Inc. issued waivers to let travelers in some areas rebook without penalty.

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