If you have to travel by air to almost anywhere in the U.S. this week, you stand a good chance of running into a nasty scheduling mess, because of a massive winter storm hitting the nation's mid-section.

By the time it's over, the storm system is expected to stretch more than 2,000 miles along the central and upper Midwest, dumping up to two feet of snow. Areas south of the Midwest may get less snow, but they'll make up for it in ice and sleet.

It's a good time to curl up in front of a fire with a good book, not take a cab to the airport and pray you flight hasn't been cancelled. Already, thousands of flights have been scratched. American Airlines said it had cancelled more than 1,500 flights as of today, but suggested more might be cancelled once the storm does its damage.

Avoid Chicago and New York

On its website, United Airlines posted airport closing information for Chicago and New York, urging passengers to avoid them:

  • Chicago O'Hare airport (ORD) will have limited operations through 6 p.m. CST on Tuesday, February 1, and will be closed from 6 p.m. CST on Tuesday, February 1, through 10 a.m. CST on Thursday, February 3, 2011.
  • New York John F. Kennedy (JFK), New York LaGuardia (LGA) and Newark (EWR) airports will be closed from 12 p.m. EST on Tuesday, February 1, through 12 p.m. EST on Wednesday, February 2, 2011.

United said it has issued travel waivers for cities in the path of the storm. Travel waivers allow customers to make changes to their ticketed itineraries in advance, without incurring the fees that would otherwise apply, in order to avoid the possibility of encountering long delays at the airport.

"Southwest Airlines is monitoring the winter weather that's forecasted to bring a variety of precipitation across the country this week," the airline said in a post on its website.  "We are keeping a close eye on the conditions as the storm moves through the cities that Southwest serves."

Fees waived

The Southwest website lists the markets impacted by the weather, with instructions for rebooking. Southwest, along with the nation's three other largest carriers, United, American and Delta, had cancelled a total of 4,000 flights by midday today.

JetBlue said it would waive change fees and fare differences for customers traveling today through Thursday, February 3, 2011, to and from the following cities:

  • Boston, MA (BOS)
  • Chicago, IL (ORD)
  • Hartford, CT (BDL)
  • New York Metro:
  • Pittsburgh, PA (PIT)
  • Portland, ME (PWM)
  • Washington DC/Baltimore, MD

Customers may rebook their flights for travel through Sunday February 6, 2011, the airline said.

In Chicago, the National Weather Service forecast calls for blizzard conditions through Tuesday night, with a snow accumulation of up to 20 inches possible. In Dallas, where the Super Bowl will be played Sunday, a hard freeze warning is in effect, with expected wind chill temperatures tonight as cold as 11 below zero.

In New York, the forecast calls for sleet and freezing drizzle tonight, with little or no snow accumulation expected.