Thousands of Christmas flights canceled as Omicron spreads

Credit…Dave Sanders for The New York Times

Thousands of potential travelers received last-minute cancellations of their Christmas flights on Friday and Saturday due to the recent Omicron case spike, including among airline employees.

The number of cancellations worldwide for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day stood at more than 3,800, the Flight Aware website showed, including more than 1,000 in the United States. While cancellations represent a relatively small percentage of the roughly 80,000 arrivals on any given day, they have been a shocking disruption in a holiday season overshadowed by the highly transmissible Omicron variant, which now accounts for more than 70 percent of new coronavirus cases. in the USA. States.

United Airlines on Friday canceled 176 flights of the 4,000 domestic and international flights scheduled to dozens of airports, mainly due to the call from sick crew members, said Joshua Freed, spokesperson for the Chicago-based carrier. . At least 44 other flights on Saturday have already been canceled, he added.

A spokesperson for Delta Air Lines said it had canceled 158 of the 3,100 flights scheduled for Friday, Christmas Eve, one of the busiest travel days of the year. The Atlanta-based airline was exhausting “all options and resources,” including rerouting and replacing planes and crews to cover scheduled flights.

The cancellations were caused by “A combination of issues, including weather and Omicron issues, and Delta expects at least 150 additional cancellations over the weekend,” spokeswoman Kate Modolo said.

Alaska Airlines recorded 17 cancellations on Thursday after a growing number of crew members reported exposure to the virus, but the carrier only needed to cancel nine flights on Friday, according to a spokesperson.

Other airlines, including JetBlue and Allegiant, have followed suit, according to Flight Aware, although American Airlines has said it currently has no flight cancellations.

While most travelers have been able to get to where they’re going, hundreds of people who had anticipated the near-normal first holiday season for years when they booked, scrambled to find alternatives.

Rugs, blankets and pillows littered the floors of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Christmas Eve morning. Impromptu lodgings emptied before sunrise as those who had stayed overnight due to delays and flight cancellations tried to re-let their seats.

Joe Lampkin, a traveler from the Minneapolis area, was waiting near gate D4 early Friday, trying to catch a later morning flight to Seattle, where his family is waiting.

“I hope this one won’t be canceled,” Lampkin said.

At the Atlanta Airport, where Delta is headquartered, a line of about 30 people waited for a help desk in Terminal A, where two Delta employees were trying to sort out problems for passengers whose flights had been flown. been canceled or delayed.

Customers took to social media to voice their grievances over the cancellations.

The United States records nearly 187,000 new cases daily, a 55% increase in the past two weeks, according to the New York Times coronavirus tracker.

Similar problems were occurring around the world as airline staff called for reports of illness or exposure to the virus.

“A large number of our frontline team members are required to test and isolate as close contacts given the increasing number of cases in the general community,” said a representative from Australia-based Jetstar Airways. , which had to cancel around 80 flights.

Staff shortages have affected a range of service industries as the virus continues to spread.

England said this week it is reducing the number of days people have to self-isolate after showing symptoms of Covid-19 to seven days instead of 10 days, a change that officials say could help alleviate shortages. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made a similar decision Thursday, although the change only applies to health workers.

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