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American Airlines flight information screens at O'Hare International Airport, in Chicago, on Dec. 22.Nam Y. Huh/The Associated Press

Airlines cancelled more than 2,000 U.S. flights, disrupting holiday travel for thousands, as a powerful winter storm hit the United States.

The extreme weather coincided with the start of a holiday travel season that could be one of the busiest ever.

The Federal Aviation Administration said Thursday that the winter storm was bringing blizzard conditions to the Midwest with major travel disruptions expected in Chicago, Detroit and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

More than 1,500 U.S. flights had been cancelled Thursday and another 761 flights for Friday were scrapped, according to flight tracking website FlightAware.

So far, 21 per cent of departing flights at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and 37 per cent of flights at Chicago Midway were cancelled Thursday.

In the seven days ending Wednesday, the Transportation Security Administration said it screened nearly 16.2 million passengers, slightly below the 16.5 million screened in the same period in 2019.

Last year’s holiday period was marred by an outbreak of COVID-19 among staff that forced airlines to cancel thousands of flights.

U.S. airlines, including Delta Air Lines DAL-N, United Airlines UAL-Q and American Airlines AAL-Q, said earlier this week they were waiving change fees and fare differences for passengers in a range of affected areas.

American Airlines said on Wednesday it was continuing to monitor the winter storm, which is expected to affect Midwest, Northeast and East Coast airports this week, and had cancelled about 80 flights as of 10 a.m. ET (1500 GMT).

Southwest Airlines had cancelled 580 flights.

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