Polar vortex takes toll on Chicago flight schedules

Airlines canceled more than 2,300 U.S. flights on Thursday,
according to the FlightAware, as they continued to grapple with extremely cold
temperatures in the Midwest. 

Those cancellations are on top of 4,200 cancellations over
the course of Tuesday and Wednesday. 

“It’s 0 degrees right now, which feels downright balmy
compared with where we’ve been,” United spokesman Charles Hobart said from
Chicago on Thursday afternoon. 

The temperature in Chicago topped out at minus-12 on Wednesday,
causing United to cancel approximately 80% of flights from its largest hub,
Chicago O’Hare. The carrier canceled a similar number of O’Hare flights
Wednesday. 

American, which also has a hub at O’Hare, cancelled a
combined 590 flights from the Windy City on Wednesday and Thursday and 1,425
flights network-wide over those two days. 

Southwest, which has its largest base at Chicago Midway, said
it had cancelled 1,500 flights Thursday and a total of 4,500 flights this week
due extreme weather. 

Hobart explained that United started work on paring down its
flight schedule ahead of the bitterly cold polar vortex last week.
Cancellations have been necessary to protect workers from exposure, he said,
and also because a portion of the aircraft United would typically stage at O’Hare
and other Midwest stations needed to be repositioned so they wouldn’t freeze.

Airlines took various steps to ease the burden on workers
during the dangerous cold snap. For example, United set up heated shelters for
workers at O’Hare and elsewhere. American provided warming vans stocked with
hot beverages and other cold weather accessories for ramp workers at O’Hare and
also served chili to O’Hare employees.

Hobart said United expected to operate more flights in
Chicago on Friday than it did on Wednesday or Thursday. Though temperatures
there are expected to warm to a high of around 20 degrees on Friday, new
difficulties could be caused by an expected snowfall of up to 3 inches Thursday
night.

American expects its O’Hare operations to be back to normal on
Friday.

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