msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 2/2/2011 7:51:14 PM ET 2011-02-03T00:51:14

Tom Kennedy cashed in 80,000 frequent flier miles so he and his wife could watch the Green Bay Packers take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV in Dallas. Unfortunately for the Kennedys, their flight is scheduled to depart Thursday from Chicago, which has been crippled with snow and ice from a blizzard blazing its way across much of the nation.

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“We just can’t take a chance on not getting there to see our beloved Packers,” Kennedy said.

So the die-hard Packer fan bought airfare on another flight, this one leaving Minneapolis on Thursday. Now, the La Crosse, Wis., resident is hoping American cancels his initial flight so he can salvage his reward miles.

“If they cancel it, we get our miles back from American Airlines,” he said. “If they don’t, we lose out on the 80,000 miles we put down for the round-trip.”

Airlines canceled more than 6,000 flights Wednesday for the second day in a row. They gave up altogether flying in or out of Chicago, where for a while the only plane landing at O'Hare International carried the Blackhawks hockey team.

Story: Blizzard cuts power as deep freeze hits Midwest

Over two days the airlines have canceled more than 13,000 flights, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware.com. The cancellations were concentrated at O'Hare, one of the nation's most important air hubs.

Air traffic halted in Chicago
The decision by all the major carriers to stop flying in Chicago rippled out to airports around the country, because even travelers who aren't headed to Chicago catch connecting flights there on United or American, which use O'Hare as a hub. And snow and ice hampered flights elsewhere, too, with Southwest Airlines Co. canceling some Wednesday morning flights from Columbus, Ohio, and all of its morning flights from Dallas.

According to FlightAware, 474 flights in and out of Boston were canceled and 639 at New York LaGuardia. Overall, 1,356 flights were scrubbed at the three big New York-area airports because of snow and ice.

American Airlines was doubly troubled by a slowdown at its biggest hub in Dallas after ice coated the runways on Tuesday. The 1,600 cancellations by American and regional partner American Eagle added up to nearly half their schedule, spokesman Tim Smith said.

Most airlines stopped trying to fly at O'Hare by Tuesday night. A charter flight carrying the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team landed around noon. Swift Air loaded the Boeing 737 with extra fuel in case it needed to circle or divert, and found a window in the weather when it could land, said Steve Kasteler, who runs Swift's VIP charters.

The Blackhawks had played in Columbus Tuesday night, and need to be in Vancouver for a game on Friday. "It's critical for them to get home to be in their own beds tonight and get a good night's rest," Kasteler said.

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A handful of other charter flights landed at O'Hare later in the afternoon.

Airport snowplows worked all night to try to keep runways open, but they were almost no match for high winds and low visibility. Rosemarie Andolino, commissioner of the city's aviation department, was up in the old control tower that is now used to oversee snowplow and other airport operations. Wind gusts topped 50 mph.

"It was swaying. You can get to a point where you have to evacuate it. We were getting close to that," she said.

Airlines canceled hundreds of their Wednesday flights a day in advance. This avoids having travelers stuck at airports, and makes it easier to station crews and planes in the right places when flights begin again.

Some flights resuming Thursday
United Airlines was planning to resume departures from O'Hare by mid-morning Thursday. It added extra flights on wide-body planes to help get people moving.

"Our maintenance personnel have been out there all day today making sure that the aircraft that are here will be ready for startup in the morning," Megan McCarthy, a spokeswoman for United Continental Holdings Inc., which runs United and Continental.

Airlines scratched more than 4 percent of all their flights between November 2010 and January 2011. Once final January numbers are available, that's likely to be the highest rate of cancellations for that three-month period since 1995-96, according to government data and flight-tracking firm FlightView.

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Airlines have canceled more than 13,600 U.S. flights for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, topping the roughly 10,000 cancellations from the massive post-Christmas blizzard.

It's too soon to assess the impact on the airline's bottom lines. Storms in December sliced $10 million from United Continental's fourth-quarter operating profit of $160 million, and that storm shut down Continental operations at its Newark hub for two days.

Airlines are hoping it will be easier to rebook passengers caught in this week's storm, because there are fewer people flying than in the peak holiday period in December.

American had added about 14 extra flights to get people to and from the Super Bowl in Dallas on Sunday. The airline said most of those will fly as planned, since few of them pass through Chicago.

Pittsburgh Steelers fan Ebony Robinson, 24, is trying to make it to Dallas for a Super Bowl party. She was supposed to fly from New York to Washington to Dallas. She took the bus to Washington instead, where she was waiting for her flight at Reagan National Airport on Wednesday. It took her an hour and a half on the phone with U.S. Airways Group Inc. to change the first leg of her flight, but she didn't regret taking the bus instead.

"I'm sure it would have been canceled," she said.

Information from the Associated Press was included in this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Ice, snow create travel snafu for Super Bowl fans

  1. Closed captioning of: Ice, snow create travel snafu for Super Bowl fans

    >>> roads into ice rinks just in time for rush hour. temperatures may dip by as much as 10 degrees in boston where over a foot of snow is expected to fall by day's end. that flash freeze could happen within the next hour and spell trouble for those planning to attend sunday's super bowl are facing flight cancellations. roads are solid ice. a transit shutdown and rolling power outages are affecting people. how will all of this possibly affect the big game itself? janet shamlian is live in arlington, texas. a few people behind you. i'm very familiar with the ice in my home state. that's my little city that i'm from not too far from there. the teams are there. the game will be played. it's a matter of how many people will be in the stands.

    >> you know what? you're absolutely right about that. it the normal temperature for right now is 58 degrees. right now it's 16 degrees. windchill is 5 degrees. you can see the ice rink behind me. that exists all over the dallas metro area as they're dealing with the aftermath of this storm. as you said, rolling power outages all over the city, all over the state of texas right now. there's so much demand on the grid. you talked about travel. yeah, this stadium behind me seats about 100,000 people. most of them are flying in or trying to fly in over the next 48 hours . the cold temperatures aren't going anywhere. that's hard to get rid of the ice. love field today canceled hundreds of flights. dfw is doing a little bit better. but if you have tickets and planning to be here, you might not get here till very close to gametime.

    >> it is stunning to see and it's about 1:38 local time there, so you have the few people who may have had to go to work are going to start to try to drive along the interstate.

    >> no one's going to work today. no one is working.

    >> i have to say something about my mom. she was unaware of the roing blackouts till she wondered why her home was getting so cold. she had no power. i hope my mom is warm in texas right now. thank

Photos: Deep freeze, snow across U.S.

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  1. Irving, Texas

    This sculpture was iced over Thursday, Feb. 3, in Irving, Texas. (Eric Gay / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Miami, Oklahoma

    A pickup truck that plunged off this snow-covered bridge near Miami, Okla, on Thursday sits in the Spring River. Three people were killed and five others injured. (Gary Crow / Tulsa World via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Chicago

    The Chicago skyline is reflected on a thin layer of ice as a chunk of snow-covered ice floats in Monroe Harbor on Thursday. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Chicago

    Robert Brigs shovels snow on Martin Luther King Drive in Chicago on Thursday. (John Gress / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Iowa City, Iowa

    A car sits abandoned in the median of I-380 between Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Iowa City on Thursday. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Commuters brave subzero wind chills as they return to work Thursday in Chicago. This week's blizzard dumped more than 20 inches of snow on the city. (M. Spencer Green / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Racine County, Wisconsin

    A man walks behind high snowdrift in Racine County, Wis., on Wednesday. (Darren Hauck / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Auburn, Mass.

    Officials walk past a building that collapsed in Auburn, Mass., on Wednesday, Feb. 2, after days of heavy snow followed by rain. (Paul Kapteyn / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Elizabethtown, Pa.

    A fallen tree weighed down with ice sits on Old Hershey Road in Elizabethtown, Pa., on Wednesday. (Blaine Shahan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Milwaukee, Wis.

    This walkway to Lake Michigan was frozen over Wednesday in Milwaukee, Wis. (Jeffrey Phelps / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Chicago

    A commuter climbs over a snow bank to catch a bus Wednesday in Chicago. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Chicago, Ill.

    Hundreds of cars are seen stranded Wednesday on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. (Kiichiro Sato / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Chicago, Ill.

    Snow piles up on the driver's seat of a stranded Chicago Transit bus on Wednesday after the door was left open during the overnight blizzard. The bus was abandoned on Lake Shore Drive. (Kiichiro Sato / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Akron, N.Y

    Andrea Todd shovels snow from her driveway with her dog Myles in Akron, N.Y., on Wednesday. (David Duprey / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Milwaukee, Wis.

    A wave sends large chunks of ice into the break wall at the Milwaukee Marina in Wisconsin on Wednesday. (Darren Hauck / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Iowa City, Iowa

    Downtown Iowa City, area near the University of Iowa, is a virtual ghost town on Wednesday. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Windsor, Conn.

    People stop along Interstate 91 in Windsor, Conn., to help push a car out of a snow bank on Wednesday. (Jessica Hill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Chicago

    Blizzard winds swirl the snow on an elevated train platform in Chicago early Wednesday. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Buffalo, N.Y.

    Frost forms on a window in Buffalo, N.Y., on Wednesday. (David Duprey / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Salem, N.H.

    This car landed vertically into a snowbank after a multiple vehicle accident on Interstate 93 on Tuesday north of Salem, N.H. No one was injured. (Tim Jean / The Eagle-Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. New York City

    The Wednesday morning commute in New York City's lower Manhattan was an icy one. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Westfield, N.J.

    An officer blocks the road to prevent pedestrians and traffic from approaching a fallen tree branch and power lines in Westfield, N.J., on Wednesday. (John Makely / msnbc.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Milwaukee, Wis.

    A cyclist tries to ride during the blizzard in Milwaukee, Wis., on Wednesday. (Darren Hauck / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Barre, Vt.

    A dog named Muldoon waits for its owner, who stopped for coffee on Wednesday in Barre, Vt. (Toby Talbot / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Chicago

    Men help push a car that got stuck in a snow on the Lake Shore Drive in Chicago early Wednesday. (Kamil Krzaczynski / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Milwaukee, Wis.

    Students from Marquette University in Milwaukee to go to the Union Building in blinding snow as a blizzard warning hits southeast Wisconsin on Tuesday. Marquette canceled classes for Wednesday. (Rick Wood / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Chicago

    Cross country skiers navigate through snow downtown Chicago on Tuesday. (Scott Olson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Chicago

    Rush hour traffic crawls as blowing snow batters Lake Shore Drive in Chicago on Tuesday. (John Gress / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Columbia, Mo.

    A snow-and-ice covered Chris Gubbels pauses while walking his dog Tuesday in Columbia. Mo. (L.G. Patterson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Chicago, Ill.

    Snow falls on the Cloud Gate sculpture, also known as "the bean," in Millennium Park downtown Chicago on Monday. (Scott Olson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. View from above

    This satellite image provided by NOAA shows the winter storm covering much of the U.S. on Tuesday. (NOAA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Fayetteville, Ark.

    A snow plow clears College Ave. in Fayetteville, Ark., on Tuesday as heavy snow falls. (April L. Brown / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Chicago, Ill.

    An approaching blizzard doesn't stop this fisherman Tuesday on Lake Michigan in Chicago. (John Gress / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Boonville, Mo.

    Trucks disappear into the white snow as they travel along I-70 on Tuesday near Boonville, Mo. (L.G. Patterson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Rogers, Ark.

    Postal carrier Tip Burnett uses a rubber hammer to open a frozen mailbox at the National Guard armory in Rogers, Ark., during heavy snow on Tuesday. (Flip Putthoff / Northwest Arkansas Newspapers vi) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Brooklyn, N.Y.

    Morning commuters in New York City make their way over a snow covered Williamsburg bridge on Tuesday. (Mary Altaffer / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Port Washington, Wisc

    Icicles form on a walkway along Lake Michigan in Port Washington, Wisc., on Tuesday. (Jeffrey Phelps / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Carmel, Ind

    A Bobcat is used to clear a parking lot of two-inch-thick ice in Carmel, Ind., on Tuesday. (Michael Conroy / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Lancaster, Pa.

    Icy patches made crossing the sidewalk in Lancaster, Pa., a challenge on Tuesday. (Richard Hertzler / Lancaster Newspapers, Inc. via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Owasso, Okla

    Ila Dooley digs her car out to try and get to work on Tuesday in Owasso, Okla. Both of Oklahoma's major airports had to shut down due to the snow. (Mike Simons / Tulsa World via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. St. Louis, Mo

    Snow plows work to remove ice from Interstate 55 on Tuesday in St. Louis, Mo. A blizzard warning was in effect for the St. Louis area, as was a forecast for up to 20 inches of snow. (Tom Gannam / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Albany, N.Y.

    Snow was also falling Tuesday in downtown Albany, N.Y. Most of upstate New York was under a winter storm warning and Gov. Andrew Cuomo opened the State Emergency Operations Center due to a forecast of up to 2 feet of snow in some areas. (Mike Groll / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. Denver, Co.

    A woman braces against the cold and blowing snow as she crosses the street in the financial district of downtown Denver on Monday. School officials canceled schools in Denver for Tuesday. (Ed Andrieski / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. Pembroke, Mass.

    Scott Buchanan scrapes snow off the roof of his house in Pembroke, Mass., on Monday as his yellow Lab Charlie holds a snow covered ball in his mouth waiting to play catch. (Stephan Savoia / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Lexington, Ky.

    Lexington, Ky., police and firefighters work at the scene of an accident after freezing rain moved coated roads there on Monday. A section of Georgetown Road was closed after two separate accidents involving five vehicles. Freezing rain turned the bridge into a sheet of ice. (Charles Bertram / The Lexington Herald-Leader via) Back to slideshow navigation
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