Severe weather, omicron infections lead to thousands more US flight cancellations

Travelers push their luggage past the baggage claim inside the United Airlines terminal at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) during the holidays as the Omicron variant of coronavirus (COVID-19) threatens to increase the number of cases in Los Angeles, California, USA 22. December, 2021.

Bing Guan | Reuters

Airlines canceled more than 2,400 US flights on New Year̵[ads1]7;s Day as they encountered severe weather across the country and an increase in omicron infections among employees who have disrupted flights throughout the turn of the year.

Since Christmas Eve, airlines have canceled more than 12,000 US flights and been forced to delay thousands more, according to flight tracking site FlightAware.

The travel problems come during what the airlines expected to be among the busiest days since the pandemic began. Last year, the Transportation Security Administration screened almost 580 million people, an increase of 79% from 2020, but still less than 30% from 2019 before the pandemic.

Southwest Airlines had largely escaped some of the serious disruption that affected rivals during the holiday season, but scrubbed 472 flights on Saturday, 13% of the schedule, according to FlightAware. The airline stopped operations at Chicago airports from 1 p.m. local time ahead of a severe winter storm.

The airline has more than 200 daily departures from Chicago Midway International Airport. A spokeswoman for the airline said the flights were cut because the planners “predicted the gusts of wind and snow that decades of our history operating at this airport show that we want to slow down airspace and also make de-icing and get planes back in the air very challenging.” did not have staffing issues.

While the weather led to many of the cancellations on New Year’s Day, airlines including United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and JetBlue Airways have canceled hundreds of flights during the holiday season, citing omicron infections among crews for many of the disruptions.

Airlines have increased incentives for pilots and flight attendants to pick up travel and ease staff shortages that some executives say could last for weeks as Covid cases continue to increase.

The Air Line Pilots Association, United pilots’ union, negotiated triple pay for pilots who pick up open flights through most of January, CNBC reported on Friday. Also flight attendants at United and both cabin crew and pilots at Spirit and others receive extra pay during the busy holiday period.

The Federal Aviation Administration earlier this week also said the disruption is likely to continue.

“Weather and heavy seasonal traffic are likely to cause some travel delays in the coming days,” the agency said in a statement Friday. “Like the rest of the U.S. population, an increasing number of FAA employees have tested positive for COVID-19. To maintain safety, traffic volumes at some facilities may be reduced, which could lead to delays during busy periods.”

Airlines have tried to cancel flights in advance so that customers do not get stuck at the airport, overwhelming ticket counters and struggling to change their schedules. JetBlue Airways said this week that it will cut 1,280 flights from the schedule by mid-January to avoid last-minute cancellations as omicron Covid infections are on the sidelines.

American Airlines, which operates a major hub from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, canceled 205 flights, or 7% of operations on Saturday, FlightAware data showed. Chicago-based United canceled 153.7% of its mainline flights.

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