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Winter Storms, Frigid Air Cancel Flights, Strand Travelers for Days

A significant snowstorm and blizzard that pushed across the United States in the early days of 2014 created a ripple effect of flight delays across the country. The timing was especially problematic as the days following the start of the new year are big for returning holiday travelers.

Just days later, an ice storm in the Midwest created further travel headaches, with flights being canceled, bumped and delayed. Many of these travelers had already been bumped from the previous storm.

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As of 3 p.m. EST on Jan. 7, despite generally clear weather conditions across the country, the Federal Aviation Administration is listing delays at Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale airports. FlightStats shows excessive delays at most major hubs, including JFK, Newark, Denver, Detroit, Pittsburgh, O'Hare, Midway, Atlanta, Charlotte, St. Louis, Baltimore, Ronald Reagan and Washington Dulles. Significant delays are listed for Logan, Minneapolis, Houston, Austin, Tampa and Las Vegas.

More than 1,000 flights have been canceled out of and into O'Hare International Airport. Hundreds more have been canceled for Detroit, Cleveland and Newark, with more than 3,200 flights canceled and more than 5,200 delayed nationally.

As a result, travelers have been stranded, sometimes for days.

One such traveler, Ryan Eldridge of San Francisco, needed to return from visiting family in the Boston area on Jan. 5. Initially, the air line told him the earliest they could get him out would be Jan. 9. He was able to get a seat on an earlier flight that left the morning of the 7th, but still needed to call off work for the missing days.

"We spent more than two hours on the phone trying to confirm our original flight," Eldridge said. "We finally went to the airport and the ticket agents couldn't even get through [to the airline]. They gave us an appointment to come back the next morning, a few hours after our flight was supposed to even be."

Eldridge said that at the airport other bumped passengers were being rerouted to layovers in cities farther south to help increase the chances that they wouldn't run into winter weather. Some travelers were being pushed back nearly a full week as seats filled.

Airlines scaled back many flights to help get operations under control. JetBlue released a statement Jan. 7 to announce that they are reopening flights in the Northeast.

The cold air brought on by the now-infamous polar vortex is not easing problems. The low temperatures have made it difficult for airports to deice runways.

"The winds are likely also a factor," Expert Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said. "The winds have been strong, which may not be a problem for larger aircraft, but for small planes it could be disruptive."

Not only did these factors exacerbate problems in the cities were the uncooperative weather was occurring, but cities farther west faced delays and cancellations when planes were not able to make it in from stormy points of origin.

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