Snowstorms and pandemic flights on the slopes delay the end of the holiday

Winter weather combined with the pandemic to frustrate air travelers whose return trips home from the holidays were canceled or delayed in the first days of the new year.

More than 2,600 US flights and more than 4,400 worldwide were stopped on Sunday, according to tracking service FlightAware.

Saturday followed mass cancellations of more than 2,700 US flights and more than 4,700 worldwide.

“It was absolute chaos,” said Natasha Enos, who spent a sleepless Saturday night and Sunday morning at Denver International Airport during what was to be a short stay on a cross-country trip from Washington to San Francisco.

Saturday̵[ads1]7;s single-day US tariff on ground planes was the highest since just before Christmas, when airlines began blaming staff shortages for growing Covid-19 infections among crews.

A winter storm that hit the Midwest on Saturday made Chicago the worst place in the country for travelers all weekend. About a quarter of all flights at O’Hare Airport were canceled on Sunday.

Denver Airport also faced significant disruption. Enos, who flew on Frontier Airlines, was not told that her flight home to California was canceled until she had already landed in Denver. Then there was a rush to find alternative flights and navigate through luggage storage packed with stranded and confused travelers, amid concerns about the proliferation of the highly transferable omicron variant of COVID-19.

“There were a lot of people in a very small space, and not everyone disguised themselves,” said the 28-year-old financial analyst. “There were a lot of exhausted children and some families were so stressed.”

In Michigan, the Detroit International Airport authority said crews worked around the clock to remove snow and maintain the airport. The Atlanta Airport Authority advised travelers to arrive earlier than usual due to high passenger volume, potential weather problems and pandemic-driven staff shortages that could extend the time it takes to get through the security gates.

And thousands of miles from the nearest snowstorms, Hawaiian Airlines said it had to cancel more flights between the islands and across the Pacific Ocean due to lack of crew.

Southwest Airlines said it is working to help customers affected by around 400 departures around the country on Sunday, about 11% of the plan. The Dallas-based airline expects even more operational challenges as the storm system pushes in on the east coast.

American Airlines said most of Sunday’s canceled flights had been stopped in advance to avoid last-minute disruptions at the airport.

SkyWest, a regional airline that operates flights under the names American Eagle, Delta Connection and United Express, put nearly 500 flights on the ground Sunday, about 20 percent of the plan, according to FlightAware.

Airlines have said they are taking steps to reduce cancellations caused by workers affected by the omicron variant. United offers to pay pilots triple or more of their regular salary to catch open flights through most of January. Spirit Airlines entered into an agreement with the Association of Flight Attendants on double pay for cabin crew until Tuesday, a union spokesman said.

The airlines hope that extra pay and reduced timetables will get them through the holiday infatuation and into the heart of January, as travel demand usually drops. The seasonal decline may be stronger than normal this year because most business travelers are still on the ground.

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