Christmas travelers stranded when omicron forces cancellation of thousands of flights

Jaclyn Stanton was excited to be reunited with her parents for the first time since February 2020, when she last saw them before the Covid-19 pandemic began.

Stanton said she and her husband were waiting to board their plane this Christmas morning from Chicago to Sacramento, California, where her family lives. But on Thursday night, she received a text message from United Airlines that their flight had been canceled.

“It’s a bit of a bummer,” Stanton, 36, said on Friday. “It was a bit of a gut punch last night.”

Stanton is one of thousands of potential travelers hoping to return home for Christmas this year, but was stranded when airlines around the world canceled thousands of flights amid the spread of the omicron variant.

It̵[ads1]7;s so frustrating. Everything should have been fine, and then omicron hit.

Jaclyn Stanton, resident of Chicago

Global airlines had canceled more than 3,700 flights in total for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, according to the flight tracking website Flight Aware. Of those canceled, more than 1,000 were planned within, in or out of the United States

Several major airlines, including United, Delta and Alaska, said they were forced to cancel hundreds of flights on Christmas Eve after the omicron variant infected their employees and crew members.

On Friday, United cut a total of 187 flights; Delta, 166; and Alaska, 11, according to Flight Aware.

“The nationwide increase in omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people operating our operation,” United Airlines said in a statement. The company said it would rebook as many travelers as possible.

Delta apologized and blamed the omicron variant and potentially harsh weather in places like Seattle and Salt Lake City for the cancellations.

On Thursday, Alaska Airlines canceled 17 flights, adding that more cancellations were possible Friday “in this dynamic situation,” the airline said in a statement.

A spokesman for American Airlines said no cancellations were planned. Other airlines did not immediately respond to inquiries about Friday’s schedule.

The highly transmissible omicron variant grew rapidly to account for almost three-quarters of Covid cases in the last week after millions of people had already booked their holiday travel plans.

Vacation flights were expected to almost triple compared to the same period last year, the American Automobile Association reported on December 14. An estimated 109 million Americans were expected to travel by plane, vehicle and other means of transportation this month.

Many people took their complaints about the travel change at the last minute to social media.

“It is unfortunate that @Delta canceled our flight at 06.00 5.5 hours before it left,” a person wrote on Twitter. “Got up at 3:30, took a Sudafed (so I will not sleep for 12-18 hours), and sat in the car before we checked email / alerts.”

He continued: “Maybe flights before 09.00 should be canceled 12+ hours in advance.”

Another Twitter user wrote: “All kinds of flights delayed or canceled when I leave honolulu. Airlines with short staffing and illness take their toll.”

As a high school chemistry teacher, Stanton said she had patiently waited for the winter break to finally visit her family.

Full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

But as cases increased across the country, the Chicago resident said she became increasingly concerned and prepared to take extra precautions such as double masking on board the plane. She still held on to the hope that she would be reunited with her family after almost two years.

Those hopes were quickly shattered after she received the text message.

“It’s so frustrating,” Stanton said. “Everything should have been fine, and then omicron hit.”

Stanton said she received a full refund for the flight after “a lot of chaos” with customer service.

She and her husband are currently planning to celebrate Christmas together for the first time in the home they bought earlier this year. Stanton said she tried to be positive, taking this year as an opportunity to “find out what our Christmas traditions are going to be.”

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