Holiday Travel Freezes in Frigid Temps

Two days before Christmas, it's looking a lot like winter ... a very cold one.

Across the country, record-breaking temperatures have gripped the United States, stranding travelers and locals on one of the busiest travel days of the year.

For those hitting the New England roads, it was a tough haul on highways and rails covered in a week's worth of snow and ice. And patience waned as hundreds of Amtrak passengers were delayed en route to holiday destinations around the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

"They keep saying it's going to be a little bit longer, little bit longer, another hour, maybe two hours," said one Amtrak customer in New York. "And that's been 12-and-a-half hours ago."

VIDEO: Freezing cold temperatures grip much of the United States.

Amtrak officials said that operations were back on track at New York's Penn Station late this afternoon, but with Christmas approaching, some travelers in other areas were running out of options.

With brutal weather hitting a wide swath of the country, hopes for an easy holiday getaway disappeared, and the Midwest took center stage today.

"Amtrak is booked. All the buses are booked. I can't rent a car because they are all gone," said traveler Cara Plesscher, stranded in Chicago.

At Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, one of the busiest airports in the world, the holiday rush slowed to a crawl. As snow piled up, so did delays and cancellations – more than 400 flights were grounded by late afternoon.

VIDEO: Families turn to shelters as they go without power in subzero temperatures.

Average arrival delays topped three hours at O'Hare due to snow and ice in the region, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Airport officials plan to provide 500 cots for those who may be stuck there overnight.

Deb Norman and Randy Beauchamp's flight to Phoenix was grounded. Stranded at the terminal, the couple is missing an important wedding Wednesday -- their own.

"I'm upset," Norman said, sighing. "I've been waiting for this day for a long time."

The Ripple Effect

Flight cancellations and delays in the most severely hit parts of the country are causing a ripple effect throughout the United States. With the sluggish economy, fewer people are traveling this holiday, but there is less availability. Airlines are flying 3,000 fewer flights per day to cut costs, making it tougher to rebook.

"You have completely packed flights, you have a packed schedule, so anytime an issue occurs with mother nature, it's basically a disaster for travelers," said Rick Seaney, CEO of

Continental Airlines said its flights to and from Chicago may be delayed for up for nearly three hours. AirTran warned that a winter storm in the Midwest could affect its flight operations in Chicago and Milwaukee today and Wednesday.

U.S. Airways also relaxed its ticketing policies -- including waiving change fees -- for several cities, such as Chicago, Boston, Detroit and Milwaukee.

Delta is also waiving some restrictions for flights to and from several destinations in the Midwest, Pacific Northwest and Northeast.

The ripple effect of the delays in Chicago is spreading throughout the country. Flight delays are also expected for Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Kansas City and Minneapolis.

Earlier this morning, departing flights leaving Newark, N.J., were delayed by up to an hour. In Charlotte, N.C., departing flights were delayed by up to 30 minutes.

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