Last update: 1:35 p.m. ET. Next update: By 6 p.m. ET.
The busy Christmas air-travel period kicks into high gear Thursday as travelers head to airports ahead of the holiday.
Thursday is projected to be one of the three busiest days between now and Jan. 6. The only busier day? That will come Friday, which is projected to be the busiest overall, according to both the Transportation Security Administration and the Airlines for America trade group.
However, passengers traveling on the busy get-away days before Christmas will have to keep an eye on Mother Nature.
A potent winter storm was forecast to move north from the Gulf Coast across the Carolinas and into the Northeast from Thursday into Friday. Snow was not forecast for major airports, but the system was expected to bring heavy rains, scattered thunderstorms and – eventually – strong winds to a number of major airports along the East Coast.
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Busy hubs like Atlanta; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Washington Dulles can typically handle cloudy, rainy weather with minimal problems, but lines of pop-up storms or sustained strong winds could create sporadic backups. Thursday storms in Florida could create off-and-on delays at airports there. In Florida, for example, more than 10 percent of arrivals to Orlando’s main airport were running late as storms fired up in the area.
To the west, San Francisco arrivals could be slowed by morning fog, though conditions were expected to improve by mid-morning.
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The bigger problem for flyers could come late Thursday and into Friday, when a mix of heavy rain and strong winds are forecast at the delay-prone hubs serving New York City and Philadelphia. Boston also could see problems as sporadic storms and wind move into New England. The winds could linger into the Northeast through Saturday.
So far on Thursday, flyers faced few problems. Nationwide, only 105 flights had been canceled and about 2,575 delayed as of 1:35 p.m. ET, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware. The cancellation tally was small and the delay count, while higher, also was not extreme. However, travelers should keep watch on those totals as the developing storm moved north and closer to hubs in the Carolinas and the mid-Atlantic.
For the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, none of the big U.S. airlines had issued weather waiver, which they typically do ahead of potent storms. That could raise hope for travelers that the airlines do not expect severe flight disruptions.
In Florida, however, JetBlue was waiving change fees for Thursday travelers flying through three airports: Orlando, Sarasota and Tampa. JetBlue customers in those cities were allowed to make one no-cost change to their itineraries as long as they completed their rebooked flights by Saturday (Dec. 22).
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