The biggest travel week of the year is developing into a difficult one for holiday travelers as a winter storm moving northeast from Texas is already causing hazardous road conditions and forcing mass flight cancellations.
Air travelers heading to the airport are encouraged to check for delays far in advance via the airline or airport sites, Twitter, or third-party flight-tracking sites like Flightaware.com.
In case of cancellations, some airlines have flexible travel policies in which they waive change fees or extend the travel window when itinerary changes can be made.
American Airlines, for example, announced Tuesday that it was cancelling change fees if travelers are booked to fly Wednesday to Baltimore, Boston, Hartford, New York City, Newark, Philadelphia, Washington, and White Plains, N.Y., and reschedule to fly Tuesday through Friday.
Switching to a new flight Tuesday or Wednesday becomes easier if there’s no need to check a bag. Plus, flying early Thursday is often easier than late Wednesday, which is the peak travel time this week.
The storm originated in Gulf of Mexico, producing icy roads and freezing rain in Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and southern Kansas and causing 11 deaths.
About 1,400 flights were canceled over the weekend, the majority in Texas. American Airlines, along with its affiliate American Eagle, canceled some 950 flights by Monday in and out of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, causing disruptions at major hubs. Such cancellations are especially worrisome for travelers who may experience a domino effect of big delays Tuesday and Wednesday at major hubs in New York, Chicago, Washington, Boston, and Philadelphia.
The potential for flight delays is increased on the East Coast, where heavy snows and icy rain are forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday. The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning from the Tennessee Valley to western New England. Up to nine inches of snow are expected to cover the northern parts of West Virginia. Freezing rain conditions will blanket the Appalachians and western mid-Atlantic into the Northeast.
If this scenario pans out, major travel disruptions could be in store for portions of I-80, I-81, I-87, I-90 and I-91.
The National Weather Service reports severe thunderstorms are expected for parts of Florida and the coastal Southeast.
The rain conditions threaten to flood roadways, as well as reduce visibility. About 90 percent of the 43.4 million Americans traveling for the Thursday holiday will do so by car, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA). The highest volume of holiday travelers this week will leave Wednesday (37 percent) and return Sunday (33 percent).
So far, the majority of storm-related deaths were in Texas and Oklahoma.