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(USA TODAY) The latest winter storm to snarl travel brought flights at the world's busiest airport to a virtual standstill Wednesday and sent delays and cancellations cascading to all corners of the nation.

The threat of winter weather prompted airlines to cancel all nearly all of their flights Wednesday at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport,The Atlanta Journal-Constitutionreports. Airport officials told the newspaper they anticipated only about 300 of the airport's daily schedule of about 2,500 arrivals and departures would operate Wednesday.

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Atlanta airport spokesman Reese McCranie tells theJournal-Constitutionthat Wednesday's spate of cancellations are the most aggressive that anyone at the airport can remember.

Nationwide, airlines had canceled 8,300 flights since Monday,according to flight-tracking service FlightAware. That figure included a staggering amount of preemptive cancellations: more than 2,400 Wednesday flights were scrubbed by dinnertime on Tuesday. And for Thursday, more than 3,000 flights already had been canceled as of 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, according to FlightAware. Even for Friday, more than 80 flights already have been canceled.

Most big airlines waived change fees and relaxed rebooking rules for customers ticketed to fly through stormy airports, though the precise details varied by airline.

THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION:Airlines to operate reduced schedule at Atlanta airport

Hardest hit on Wednesday were Atlanta and Charlotte, with the two hubs accounting for more than a third of the nation's total cancellations as of 3 p.m. ET. Atlanta is a hub for Delta while Charlotte is one of US Airways' busiest hubs.

Delta dropped more than half of its nationwide flight schedule Wednesday, cancellations that were prompted in large parts by the situation in Atlanta.

Southwest, which operates a busy base at Atlanta along with subsidiary AirTran, canceled its entire schedule today.

Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins tells Today in the Sky that Southwest and AirTran hoped to resume a normal flight schedule at Atlanta at 1 p.m. Thursday.

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Southwest/AirTran also had canceled all of the company's Wednesday flights to Charlotte and Raleigh/Durham. The airline hope to resume a normal schedule in Charlotte at 11:25 a.m. Thursday and at Raleigh/Durham shortly after noon. Southwest also was flying limited schedules to a number of other airports in the Southeast and mid-Atlantic.

In Charlotte, more than half of Wednesday's flights had been canceled as of 3 p.m. ET.

Unfortunately for fliers, the scope of storm-related cancellations was only likely to expand.

Wednesday's problems at busy airports like Atlanta and Charlotte were likely to linger at least into Thursday. And, adding to fliers' misery, snow and icy precipitation was expected to start overnight in Washington, Philadelphia and New York. Heavy accumulations were possible for those metro areas on Thursday, which -if the forecasts prove accurate - would likely snarl flights at a half-dozen of the nation's busiest airports into Friday.

Those problems were likely to send disruptions rippling to airports across the nation. A flight from Phoenix to Salt Lake City, for example, could become delayed or canceled if the aircraft or crew scheduled to fly it gets bogged down in the snowy south or Mid-Atlantic.

The week's cancellation tally now stands at 8,339 since Monday,according to FlightAware. As of 4 p.m. ET Wednesday, the weekly breakdown is as follows:

  • Monday: 587
  • Tuesday: 1,359
  • Wednesday: 3,274 (and counting)
  • Thursday: 3,038 (and counting)
  • Friday: 81 (and counting)
  • Total: 8,339

With so many affected passengers, it could take until next week before airlines are able to clear the backlog of fliers knocked off schedule by this round of disruptions.

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