More than 6,000 flights have been cancelled worldwide over the long Christmas weekend and thousands more were delayed, according to a tracking website, as the highly infectious Omicron variant brings holiday hurt to millions.
Compounding the travel chaos in the United States, severe weather in the country’s west is wreaking havoc on roadways and other routes there, although it may well bring a white Christmas weekend to the northwestern US cities of Seattle and Portland.
Globally, airlines scrapped about 2,200 flights as of yesterday morning, down from more than 2,800 from the day before, FlightAware’s data showed.
Commercial airlines canceled more than 720 flights within, into or out of the United States on Sunday, according to FlightAware’s tally.
This was slightly down from nearly 1,000 on Christmas Day but around the same level as Christmas Eve, and further cancellations were likely. In addition, more than 1,400 flights were delayed.
Pilots, flight attendants and other employees have been calling in sick or having to quarantine after exposure to COVID-19, forcing Lufthansa, Delta, United Airlines, JetBlue, Alaska Airlines and many other short-staffed carriers to cancel flights during one of the year’s peak travel periods.
“Help @united flight cancelled again. I want to get home for Christmas,” one exasperated traveller from the US state of Vermont tweeted to the airline early Saturday.
Flightaware data showed United cancelled about 200 flights on Friday and nearly 250 Saturday – about 10 percent of those that were scheduled.
A scramble to reroute pilots and planes and reassign employees was underway, but Omicron’s surge has upended business.
“The nationwide spike in Omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation,” United said in a statement Friday.
“As a result, we’ve unfortunately had to cancel some flights and are notifying impacted customers in advance of them coming to the airport,” the airline said.
Similarly, Delta scrapped 310 flights Saturday and was already cancelling several dozen more Sunday, saying it has “exhausted all options and resources – including rerouting and substitutions of aircraft and crews to cover scheduled flying”.
“We apologize to our customers for the delay in their holiday travel plans,” the company said.
The cancellations added to the pandemic frustration for many people eager to reunite with their families over the holidays after last year’s Christmas gatherings were severely curtailed.
“Love texting, messaging and calling Spirit Airlines to try and figure out what I’m supposed to do after they didn’t let us know our flight was cancelled until we were at the airport,” one traveler in the US wrote on Twitter on Sunday.
A Twitter user named Morgan Longland tweeted at the Canadian airline West Jet on Sunday saying: “You cancelled my boyfriend’s Christmas day flight within three hours of departure… and rebooked him over 30 hours later? Merry Christmas.”