Thousands of Flights Canceled as Polar Vortex Descends on Midwest

by Daniel McCarthy
Thousands of Flights Canceled as Polar Vortex Descends on Midwest

Some are predicting that Chicago will experience its lowest temperatures ever this week. Photo: Page Light Studio/

Flight cancellation numbers were piling up Tuesday and continued through Wednesday as the Polar Vortex descended on the Midwest, bringing with it freezing temperatures that some expect to be the worst in a generation.

States of emergency have now been declared in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan, where subzero temperatures, including some predicted as low as 50 degrees below zero in metro Detroit, are expected.

According to FlightAware, close to 2,000 flights within, into, or out of the United States have been cancelled on Wednesday, Jan. 30. Most of those cancelled flights are from Midwest airports including Chicago O’Hare (605 flights), Chicago Midway (166), St. Louis Lambert (61), Minneapolis/St. Paul (41), and General Mitchell Intl (33).That follows the more than 1,800 U.S. flights that were delayed and another 1,200 cancelled on Tuesday.

Temperatures at O’Hare Airport were at -22 degrees with wind chills of -49 degrees, according to WLS Chicago. On Thursday, wind chills are expected to drop the temperature in Chicago between -36 to -55 degrees.

Other forecasts for Wednesday night include -30 degree in Fargo, -28 degrees in Minneapolis, -20 degrees in Milwaukee, -17 in Detroit, and -38 in International Falls, according to AccuWeather.

Change fee waivers
A number of airlines have been issuing change fee waivers to passengers impacted by both the Polar Vortex and other winter weather in the Northeast and Canada.

American Airlines will allow travelers who bought a ticket for most impacted airports by Jan. 25 and are scheduled to travel through the end of January to change their ticket without penalty for a new flight before Feb. 3.  

Delta is waiving the change fees for anyone traveling through Chicago Midway and O’Hare, Green Bay, Madison, Milwaukee, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and more Midwest airports as long as travel is rebooked for no later than Feb. 1. Delta is also offering a change fee waiver for flights on Jan. 29 and 30 for Northeast airports that include Cleveland, New York JFK and LaGuardia, Montreal, Newark, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Toronto and more as long as the flight is rebooked for a date through Feb. 2.

Southwest, who has had the most cancellations, does not charge change fees, but it is waiving the difference in fares for most of the airports that have been impacted by the cold weather.

United Airlines is allowing passengers travel to, from, or connecting through a number of Northeast airports that include Buffalo, Cleveland, Montreal, New York JFK and LaGuardia, and Philadelphia, O’Hare to change their flights without penalty as long as the flight is rebooked for one before Feb. 1 in the same city and class.

United is allowing Chicago O’Hare passengers traveling through Feb. 1 to do the same for flights scheduled on or before Feb. 5.


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