Eastbound flights still may be canceled

February 10, 2010 9:03:25 AM PST
Airlines were reporting no delays at O'Hare and Midway International Airports Wednesday after snowfall dissipated in the Chicago area. But now East Coast airports are affected.Airlines at both Chicago airports continued to proactively cancel flights as Tuesday's winter storm moved east and affected airports in that part of the country. At Midway, Southwest canceled all flights from 10 a.m. Tuesday until 10:30 a.m. Wednesday due to the winter snow storm. Midway looked like a ghost town Tuesday. It was nearly shut down because of the cancellations.

But O'Hare was a different story, where travelers were still getting out.

Perched 170 feet over O'Hare, you'll find the conductors of a fast-moving symphony involving planes, plows and people.

"It's pride. You want to make sure that there's always pavement available for an aircraft to use," said George Lyman, O'Hare airport operations.

Lyman's job gets a bit more complicated on snow days. In addition to all the airplanes, construction crews and others needing access to the airfield, he and his team move 120 pieces of snow and ice fighting equipment around the airport like pieces on a chess board. The goal: Always keep four of O'Hare's seven runways open. They do so with a conga line of snow plows. One pass of a runway can take 10 to 15 minutes.

"You want to stay off the runways as much as possible because every time you get on a runway, you're slowing down your arrival rate," said Lyman.

In the terminals, the number of cancellations on the boards are often determined by how many runways stay open combined with the amount of spacing needed between planes in the air due to visibility. The airlines are helping with pre-emptive cancellations.

"It is a little eerie, very empty here at Midway but that was the whole plan," said Connie Callahan, Southwest Airlines.

Southwest Airlines scrubbed its entire schedule with nearly 150 flights cancelled.

"That gave our customers the opportunity to reschedule instead of experiencing lengthy delays at the airport," said Callahan.

Midway's other air carriers were flying but with cancellations peppering their schedules.

One group made it on Frontier's last flight from Denver.

"Looks great here, we're happy to be here, and we're going to see Oprah for her birthday," said Carole Rubenstein, traveler.