Hit by extreme weather and operational glitches, U.S. airlines canceled nearly 9,000 flights, disrupting more than 1 million passengers' plans in the first half of the holiday travel period, according to a report Monday.
The number of cancellations from Friday, Dec. 19, through Sunday jumped 70% from last year, says FlightStats, a Portland, Ore., firm.
Some travelers reached their destinations a day or more late because many flights that did run were already full. Airlines cut their holiday schedules about 10% this year compared with 2007.
FlightStats says Chicago O'Hare had the worst on-time record among the USA's largest 38 airports in the 10-day period. Portland, Ore.; Seattle; and Chicago Midway were close behind.
On six of the busiest travel days, less than half of all flights at the largest airports arrived on time.
The worst day was Sunday, Dec. 21, when only 39% of arrivals were within 15 minutes of schedule, FlightStats found. For the entire 10 days, 52% of flights arrived on time.
"We have to do better than this," says David White, FlightStats' vice president for marketing.
Storms buried Portland, Ore., under more snow in December than in any other single month since January 1950, said Portland airport spokesman Steve Johnson. According to FlightStats, Portland experienced the highest percentage of canceled flights of any of the big U.S. airports — almost 19%, or 441, of those scheduled.
Struggling to keep operating, some airlines there ran short of the fluid needed to de-ice jet wings so ice buildup doesn't cause a crash, White said.
A triple weather whammy Dec. 23, 24, 26 and 27 affected both Chicago airports, O'Hare and Midway.
"Snow, fog and ice impacted O'Hare throughout the holiday travel period," says Megan McCarthy, a spokeswoman for United Airlines, whose largest hub is O'Hare. United does not operate at Midway.
McCarthy said United employees worked hard to get passengers to their destinations and had added 65 flights in the days before Christmas.
Nationwide, White's report says, U.S. airlines canceled a total of 8,879 domestic and international flights during the 10-day holiday travel period, up from 5,222 in 2007.
The single worst day for cancellations was Friday, Dec. 19.
But travelers flying Christmas Day got an unexpected gift. FlightStats says airlines canceled the fewest flights that day.
Airlines' operations began returning to normal over the past weekend, FlightStats says.