Last update: 8:40 a.m. ET. Next update: By 10 a.m. ET.
Wednesday was shaping up to be a rough day for air travel as a sprawling winter storm brought ice and snow to airports from the Great Plains into the Northeast.
Nationwide, more than 1,350 flights had been canceled and another 675 delayed as of 8:40 a.m. ET, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware. Those totals were likely to climb throughout the day.
More than 900 of those flights had been preemptively canceled by late Tuesday and nearly all big U.S. carriers were waiving change fees for airports in the storm’s path.
The hardest-hit airports on Wednesday were the three major airports serving Washington and Baltimore, where several inches of snow were expected before a switchover to ice and – eventually – rain.
At Washington Reagan National, nearly 300 combined arrivals and departures were canceled as of 8:40 a.m. ET, accounting for nearly a third of the day’s entire schedule there. A similar percentage of the day’s flights also had been canceled at Baltimore/Washington (BWI), where more than 200 flights had been canceled. About 180 flights – roughly a quarter of Wednesday’s schedule – had been canceled at Washington Dulles.
USA TODAY: Huge winter storm moves east: Snow, sleet, heavy rain target 39 states
American operates a hub at Washington National while Washington Dulles is a major hub for United. Baltimore/Washington is the second-busiest base for Southwest.
Wednesday’s delays spread beyond the Washington and Baltimore area as wintry weather fell at airports from the Dakotas to the Ohio Valley and the Mid-Atlantic.
At Philadelphia, close to 10 percent of the day’s flights had been canceled and more than 5 percent at St. Louis; Cleveland; Columbus, Ohio; and Greensboro, North Carolina.
Travelers to the New York City-area’s three big airports also should be on alert for delays and cancellations. Light snow was possible there, but that could mix with wind and poor visibility to create backups at the delay-prone airports of New York JFK, New York LaGuardia and Newark, New Jersey.
USA TODAY TRAVEL: Southwest apologizes to travelers for spike in cancellations and delays, blames union
Another problem facing travelers on Wednesday was a spike in cancellations at Southwest that the carrier blamed on the mechanics’ union. Southwest and the union have been in prolonged and occasionally contentious contract talks since 2012.
“We apologize to our customers who have been inconvenienced by this disruption,” Southwest Chief Operating Officer Mike Van de Ven said late Tuesday.
The union responded quickly, accusing management of “scapegoating” mechanics.
Southwest had more than 385 cancellations on Wednesday, according to FlightAware. While many of those could be traced to airports experiencing poor weather, they remained unusually high at some airports.
At Chicago Midway, for example, about 17 percent of the day’s schedule had been canceled. Southwest is the dominant carrier there, accounting for about 95 percent of all passengers there. While messy weather was in Chicago’s forecast, the Midway cancellation count compared to a smaller total at Chicago O’Hare, where only about 4 percent of the day’s flights had been canceled.
Contributing: Dawn Gilbertson
IN PICTURES: 40 cool photos: Planespotting, behind the scenes at Washington Dulles
IN PICTURES: 34 cool photos from Houston Bush Intercontinental Airport