DALLAS (AP) — Backups are easing at U.S. airports thanks to a break in the weather, yet there are still hundreds of delays and cancellations for travelers early Thursday in what is expected to be the peak day for holiday travel, and pockets of dicey weather threaten to scramble air traffic this weekend.
More than 1,000 U.S. flights have been delayed and nearly 400 had been canceled before 9:30 a.m. Eastern, according to FlightAware.
Scattered showers and thunderstorms are expected in the Northeast later Thursday and Friday and storms are expected further south along the East Coast through Saturday.
The West could get hit with similar unstable weather systems for the next several days.
Thousands of people have had holiday plans thrown in the air after a wave of storms raked the Northeast over the past few days and frustrations are running high.
United Airlines, which operates a hub out of Newark, New Jersey, canceled the most flights among U.S. airlines for a fifth straight day as of Wednesday.
“We’re beginning to see improvement across our operation,” United said late Wednesday. “As our operation improves in the days ahead, we will be on track to restore our operation for the holiday weekend.”
The worst disruptions early Thursday, as has been the case for the past two days, are happening on the East Coast. The Federal Aviation Administration temporarily held up Boston-bound flights on Wednesday. It stopped flights to all three major airports in the New York City area and two near Washington, D.C., at times Tuesday.
Huge crowds, bad weather, inability of some airline crews to reach their scheduling offices — even a Delta jet that made a belly landing in Charlotte, North Carolina — all contributed to the mess.
The FAA expects Thursday will be the heaviest travel day over the July 4 holiday weekend with more than 52,500 total flights.
Unlike past disruptions that have been caused or worsened by internal airline systems, delays this week have been caused almost entirely by bad weather.
Yet technology may resurface as a source of disruption this weekend
Some airline planes may be unable to fly in bad weather starting this weekend because of possible interference with 5G wireless service.
Last week, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg issued a new warning to airlines, telling them that planes that aren’t outfitted with new radio altimeters — devices that measure the height of a plane above the ground — won’t be allowed to operate in limited visibility starting this Saturday because of potential interference from new 5G wireless service.
American, United, Southwest, Alaska and Frontier say all of their planes have been retrofitted, but Delta Air Lines still has about 190 planes waiting to be updated because its supplier doesn’t have enough altimeters. Delta said it will schedule those planes to avoid landing where the weather might be bad to limit disruptions.
Smaller airlines that operate regional flights could also be affected by the radio interference issue, as could flights operated to the United States by foreign carriers.