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More than 1,600 flights cancelled over historic winter storm - here’s what you need to know

Winter weather alerts have been issued in more than two dozen states

Chelsea Ritschel
New York
Thursday 23 February 2023 16:00 GMT
Winter storm coming to Southern California

More than 1,600 flights have been cancelled in the United States as Winter Storm Olive brings heavy snowfall, significant ice and dangerous whiteout conditions from coast to coast.

The storm, which prompted the National Weather Service to issue weather warnings in more than two dozen states, began Tuesday and will continue through the end of the week.

The winter storm has already impacted travel, with tracking site FlightAware reporting that 1,600 flights were cancelled in the US on Thursday morning. An additional 5,000 flights were delayed on Thursday morning,

More than 400 of those were heading in or out of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Chicago’s O’Hare, Boston Logan and Detroit Metro were also badly impacted.

As the winter storm continues to impact travel, it is important for travellers to know where and how to check their flight status, and what their rights are when it comes to cancellations or delays.

How can travellers find out if their flight is cancelled?

Most travellers will be notified by the airline if their flight is delayed or cancelled, either by email, text or app notifications.

If the airline does not have your contact information, or if you did not receive an alert, you can check the status of your flight on your airline’s website.

To do so, travellers can enter their departure city and destination, as well as the date of their flight. Alternatively, travellers can enter their flight number and the date of departure, at which point they will be able to see the flight status.

Live airline tracking websites such as FlightAware can also be useful to travellers in times of increased delays or cancellations. The website is capable of showing flights cancelled by airport or by airline.

For example, FlightAware currently shows that SkyWest is the airline most heavily impacted, with the airline cancelling 263 flights as of Wednesday morning.

If you are already at the airport, flight status updates should be displayed on the departures board.

What should you do if your flight is cancelled and what are your rights?

If an airline cancels your flight, typically the airline will rebook you on the next available flight or allow you to choose a flight that best suits you, free of charge.

This can usually be done on the airline’s website or app.

In some instances, rebooking a flight may require you to speak with an agent for the airline, which can be done over the phone or via the app. If the airline is experiencing high delays or cancellations, it may take time before you are able to speak with a representative who can help rebook the impacted flight.

If you are at the airport when your flight is cancelled, you can seek assistance at the airline’s help desk. Scott Keyes, the founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, recommends also attempting to contact the airline via phone while waiting in line.

“Stand in line and pull out your phone. Gate agents aren’t the only ones who can help re-accommodate you - phone agents can as well,” Keyes told Travel and Leisure. “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket; you may get through to an agent on the phone before you reach the front of the line at the airport.”

Travellers should be aware that, if their flight is cancelled, for any reason, and they choose not to rebook the flight, they are entitled to a full cash refund of the ticket price and associated fees, according to the US Department of Transportation.

Individuals whose flights experience significant delays are also entitled to a full refund if they choose not to travel, the DOT states. Each airline has its own definition of what constitutes a “significant delay,” so travellers are encouraged to visit the airline’s website, where they can find specific cancellation and delay policies.

To request a refund, which can be a lengthy process, customers can visit the airline’s website.

Most airlines will issue winter weather vouchers to travellers whose flights have been impacted by a storm, with Southwest Airlines issuing a waiver for customers with reservations to multiple impacted states from 20 to 23 February.

“Customers holding reservations to/from/through the cities above on the corresponding dates may rebook in the original class of service or travel standby within 14 days of their original date of travel without paying an additional charge,” the airline states.

American Airlines also informed customers change fees would be waived due to delays or cancellations resulting from the winter storm, while Delta Air Lines issued a similar waiver, with the airline offering travellers in the upper Midwest and Rockies and mountain regions who are impacted by the weather the ability to reschedule flights.

It is important to be aware of any fine print on an airline voucher, as they often come with limitations such as “blackout and expiration dates,” according to US News.

For example, Delta travellers whose rebooked travel occurs after 27 February may see a “difference in fare apply,” according to the airline’s Upper Midwest Winter Weather update.

For the latest updates on the winter storm, you can follow our liveblog here.

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