Cargo operations freeze at U.K., U.S. airports

This week, cargo operations for airports and carriers in the United States and United Kingdom are in a deep freeze as Storm Jayden barrels through the U.S. and polar vortex winds hit both countries, resulting in flight delays, cancellations and cargo embargoes. U.S. airports suffering flight delays and cancellations include Atlanta (ATL), Chicago O’Hare (ORD), Chicago Midway (MDW), Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW), Milwaukee (MKE), Minneapolis/St. Paul (MSP) and St. Louis (STL), while in the U.K., Manchester Airport (MAN) has also seen major cancellations and delays.

Today, 8,937 flights have been delayed within the U.S. and 2,929 flights have been cancelled, with the greatest concentration of delays at ORD and MDW, according to data from FlightAware. On Twitter, ORD encouraged customers to check flight status with their carriers. The airport did not respond to request for details about cargo operations.

Among carriers affected, Delta Cargo issued an embargo on its operations at MSP and DTW on all domestic origin, transfer and destination shipments, along with U.S. export and transfer shipments, effective Tuesday, Jan. 29 at 12:01 a.m. EST until Thursday, Jan. 31 at 11:59 p.m. EST. International cargo flying to MSP and DTW cargo are excluded from the embargo. The airline also placed an embargo on all ORD inbound, outbound and transfer products, effective Tuesday, Jan. 29 at 12:01 a.m. EST until Thursday, Jan. 31 at 11:59 p.m. EST. Delta’s embargo placed on all cargo at ATL on Jan. 29 at 12:01 a.m. EST was lifted this morning.

Southwest Airlines has also cancelled 620 flights and delayed 104 flights today, but has not provided details pertaining to the weather’s impact on its cargo operations. The airline tweeted that due to forecasted winter weather conditions, service to MDW, MKE and MSP may be disrupted through Friday, Feb. 1. Southwest told Air Cargo Airports that “as the weather impacts our entire operation, we are proactive in re-routing cargo and working with customers to avoid any significant delays or disruptions.”

American Airlines had 222 flights cancelled and 102 flights delayed today. American Airlines Cargo has not released any details on its operations alerts related to the impact of weather on its operations.

Swissport, which handles American Airlines’ cargo operations at ORD, told Air Cargo Airports that despite a slowdown in operations at the airport and the inability of some employees to make it to work due to impacted public transport, its clients have experienced no issues and that its warehouse is working fine while “weathering the storm.” Swissport’s clients at ORD include American Airlines, Alaska Cargo, China Cargo Airlines, Hainan Airlines, China Eastern, Etihad, Iceland Air, Ethiopian and Interjet.

In the U.S., airlines are taking measures to protect their employees at airports in the region, because although the U.S. Midwest is no stranger to the cold, the U.S. National Weather Service and the Department of Homeland Security have issued safety warnings. Southwest Airlines is providing employees with industrial-grade coats, gloves and face masks at MDW, while American Airlines set up a mobile warming van to service employees with hand warmers, extra gloves, hot chocolate, coffee and tea, according to USA Today. United added temporary heated shelters for ORD ramp workers to rotate into, limiting their exposure to the cold.

Airports in the U.K. are also suffering from polar vortex blasts, particularly Manchester (MAN), which closed its runways this morning, delaying or cancelling flights. MAN has since reopened one of its runways, although departure flights at the airport are currently delayed up to two hours and 34 minutes. It is not yet clear how cargo operations at the airport have been impacted.

Winter storms are not a new threat to cargo operations, but this year’s seem to be harsher than many of those past and are likely not helping morale in the U.S. following the recent partial government shutdown.