Thousands of Americans will be forced to spend Christmas alone after airlines canceled nearly 500 flights and delayed more than 750 on Christmas eve due to staffing shortages caused by surge in Omicron infections.
Short staffing due to the breakthrough infections has led United Airlines to cancel at least 169 flights for Friday, while Atlanta-based Delta said it has canceled about 128 and Alaska Airlines said it had canceled 10.
United and Delta said they were working to contact passengers so they would not be stranded at airports and in a statement United made it clear COVID is responsible for the cancellations.
‘The nationwide spike in Omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation. As a result, we’ve unfortunately had to cancel some flights and are notifying impacted customers in advance of them coming to the airport,’ United said.
Frustrated passengers desperate to see their families for Christmas are raging at the airlines, with some saying they will now be forced to drive 12 hours to get home in time.
Some said they were left waiting on planes for hours without updates, others said they were left waiting in long lines to check into flights while others said flights were just flat out cancelled with no warning, leaving them stranded for the holidays.
Globally, more than 3,000 flights were cancelled for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, according to FlightAware, while a additional 2,000 flights were cancelled on Thursday.
The flight tracking website data showed that more than 20 percent of the flights canceled for Christmas Eve involved flights within, into or out of the United States, the Washington Post reported.
The US has been hit with a wave of COVID infections, with more the US recording 261,339 new daily cases on Thursday, and 303,461 deaths. There are now 4,015 confirmed Omicron cases in the US, where experts say the highly contagious variant is responsible for 73% of cases nationwide, and at least 90% in the hardest hit states, like New York and Washington.
The scene at Newark Airport on Christmas Eve as thousands of Americans try to make it home for the holidays
Travelers pack LaGuardia Airport in New York City on Thursday as they navigate cancellations and delays
Short staffing due to COVID-19 has led United Airlines to cancel at least 169 flights for Friday, while Atlanta-based Delta said it has canceled about 128
Florida, Washington DC and Hawaii have seen COVID cases surge more than 500 percent over the past two weeks
When accessing a cancelled flight on United’s website, the following message pops up: ‘Your flight is canceled due to an increase in Covid cases limiting crew availability. We’re sorry for disrupting your holiday plans and for the inconvenience.’
Delta cited potential inclement weather and the impact of the Omicron variant for the cancellations, saying they have ‘exhausted all options and resources — including rerouting and substitutions of aircraft and crews to cover scheduled flying — before canceling around 90 flights for Friday.’
But travelers were not having it and took to social media to air their frustrations.
Some said they were left waiting on planes for hours without updates, others said they were left on long lines to check into flights while others said their flights were just flat out cancelled with no warning, leaving them stranded for the holidays.
Travelers wait in line at the Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) in Philadelphia on Thursday as hundreds of flights were cancelled due to short staffing
Travelers wait to board a flight at the Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) in Philadelphia
Passengers at JFK Airport in New York wait for their baggage as cancellations and delays ruin thousands of travel plans
One Delta traveler said he missed out on two days with his family because of delays.
‘Hey Delta let’s clean it up here for the holidays huh! Changed my initial flight by adding not 1 but 2 stops. So I change flight completely, now it’s an hour delayed and I’ll be missing my connector. Missing 2 days with the fam,’ Will Manny tweeted.
Photos of airports across the country show the chaos at understaffed airports where hundreds of people wait for hours in order to catch their flights for the Christmas holiday.
At JFK Airport this morning JetBlue passengers were seen waiting on a huge line after the airline was experiencing issues printing bag tickets,
On Friday, Germany-based Lufthansa that it was canceling a dozen long-haul transatlantic flights over the Christmas holiday period because of a ‘massive rise’ in sick leave among pilots.
The cancellations on flights to Houston, Boston and Washington come despite a ‘large buffer’ of additional staff for the period.
The airline says it couldn’t speculate on whether COVID-19 infections or quarantines were responsible because it was not informed about the sort of illness. Passengers were booked on other flights.
Travelers were told they should brace for long waits at airports and lengthy traffic on the roads as an estimated 109 million people are set to travel between December 23rd and January 2nd this year – a 34 percent increase from the same time period in 2020.
A dramatic 27.7 million more people than in 2020 will travel 50 miles or more this holiday season, with eight percent less travelers than the same point in 2019.
Of those travelers, 6.4 million will be boarding airplanes, more than twice the 2.3 million that did so during the holiday season during the height of COVID in 2020. In 2019, 7.33 million holiday travelers traveled by airline, compared to 6.7 million in 2018 and 6.5 million in 2017.
Of this year’s holiday travelers, 6.4 million will be boarding airplanes, more than twice the 2.3 million that did so during the holiday season during the height of COVID in 2020. In 2019, 7.33 million holiday travelers traveled by airline, compared to 6.7 million in 2018 and 6.5 million in 2017+11
Over the past three days, the Transportation Security Administration has screened more than two million passengers each day at airports nationwide, double the number of screenings carried out this time in 2020.
At Los Angeles International Airport, up to 3.5 million travelers are expected to pass through between December 17 and January 3rd. There were 45 million travelers during that period in 2019, but this year’s prediction is higher than the 1.85 million passengers seen at that time in 2020.
After Sunday, peak travel days are expected between December 26 and January 2nd, with more than 200,000 passengers expected each of those days. Friday, according to LAX officials, was the busiest day the airport saw since 2020.
‘That trend will continue each Sunday for the next three weeks, with busy days in between,’ LAX tweeted.
After Sunday, peak travel days at LAX are expected again on Dec. 26 and Jan. 2, when more than 200,000 passengers are expected during each of the days.
On Tuesday, Delta Chief Executive Ed Bastian asked the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to shrink quarantine guidelines for fully vaccinated individuals who experience breakthrough COVID-19 infections, citing the impact on the carrier’s workforce.
Bastian asked that the isolation period be cut to five days from the current 10.
That request was echoed both by Airlines for America, a trade group representing major cargo and passenger carriers, which wrote to the CDC on Thursday, and by JetBlue on Wednesday.
The CDC released updated quarantine guidance for healthcare workers on Thursday, cutting the isolation time to seven days for workers who test positive for COVID-19 but are asymptomatic, providing they test negative.
It has been expected to be a rebound season for holiday travel after the pandemic shut down most of it in 2020.
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