JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A major winter storm is hitting on what AAA predicted would be the busiest travel day before Christmas.
Some states now have hundreds of miles of road closures, and the number of canceled flights at airports across the country was growing by the hour on Friday.
The once-in-a-generation arctic blast is bringing snow, rain, ice, wind and frigid temperatures that are disrupting air travel plans nationwide and causing thousands of cancellations and delays. It comes as AAA expects 7.2 million Americans will fly for the holidays, which is a 14% jump from last year.
And some reports say flights this year were more crowded than in previous years even before the storm disrupted travel.
Chicago and Denver airports were reporting some of the most cancellations Friday morning as they dealt with wind and snow from the massive winter storm.
Jacksonville International Airport also had multiple cancellations and delays.
Crowds of travelers at JAX were just hoping to reunite with loved ones in time for Christmas.
“Everything is on time so far. So, I’m just expecting to get back home on time and spend time with the family,” Boris Akwo said.
One traveler at JAX had a 2 ½-hour delay.
“I think it’s very easy to complain and criticize all these airlines, but hey, I’m in Jacksonville right now. I was in Charlotte, North Carolina. That’s 600 miles away I could’ve taken the Amtrak, which would’ve taken me all day,” the traveler said.
The Garcia family hit some speedbumps making the trip from South Carolina.
“We had a 5:30 (a.m.) flight this morning that was canceled when we got to the airport so we were scrambling and they rebooked us for Sunday,” said Sydney Garcia.
Fortunately, they found seats on another flight.
Some travelers were prepared if the worst happened and a flight was canceled.
“I’ve got money if we have to get a hotel room or something,” Steven Berger said. “We’ll just play it by ear. God will be with us.”
Adele Pauldo was headed to Miami to spend the holidays with her daughter. She said she always has a backup plan in case of a delay or a cancelation.
“Go home and drive,” Pauldo said.
It’s always a good idea to check the status of your flight before coming to the airport. Airlines say one of the best things travelers can do is download their app for information.
But what can you do if your flight is delayed or canceled?
First, if you can avoid getting trapped at the airport, do it.
That’s why airlines encourage you to check your status before you get there.
If you’re already at the airport – and your flights have been canceled or delayed – get to the airline agent’s desk fast because alternative flights are first come first serve.
You can also try self-serve kiosks.
There is a chance you can switch airlines too, so check to see who has interline agreements.
If you get trapped at the airport, ask the airline to give you a hotel room or a hotel voucher.
Airlines have issued winter weather waivers so passengers can rebook at no cost and within a limited time period.
Whether you’re taking a plane, train or bus this holiday weekend, pack your patience and try to arrive early.
If you’re taking the train, you can keep track of your status by downloading the Amtrak app, going to Amtrak’s website, calling 800-USA-RAIL, or following Amtrak on social media.
When News4JAX went to the Jacksonville Amtrak station on Friday, there were not a lot of people there, but departures were not scheduled until later in the afternoon.
News4JAX spoke with Amtrak spokesperson Kimberly Woods by phone about the possible storm delays.
“As of right now, we are operating scheduled service, we have not announced any cancellation for trains operating in the Southeast,” Woods said. “If the severe weather continues, we will announce any service changes, adjustments or cancellations.”
News4JAX also checked in with travelers at Jacksonville’s Greyhound station. It was slow, but we ran across one person traveling north despite the storm.
“Optimistic, yes that’s the best way to go about it,” the traveler said.