Bad weather, omicron infections lead to thousands more flight cancellations in the United States


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

Bing Guan | Reuters

Airlines canceled more than 2,400 flights to the United States on New Years Day due to extreme weather conditions across the country and an increase in omicron infections among staff that disrupted air travel during the end of year holidays.

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

The travel issues come during what airlines have expected to be among the busiest days since the start of the pandemic. Last year, the Transportation Security Administration checked nearly 580 million people, up 79% from 2020 but still down about 30% from 2019 before the pandemic.

Southwest Airlines had largely escaped some of the severe disruption that plagued rivals over the holidays, but cut 472 flights on Saturday, 13% from its schedule, according to FlightAware. The airline suspended operations at Chicago airports at 1 p.m. local time before a severe winter storm.

The airline offers more than 200 daily departures from Chicago Midway International Airport. A spokeswoman for the airline said flights were halted because planners “anticipated gusty winds and blowing snow which, according to decades of our history operating at this airport, will slow down the airspace and also render de-icing and returning planes very difficult. ”The Southwest spokesperson had no personnel issues.

As the weather led to many cancellations on New Years Day, carriers such as United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and JetBlue Airways canceled hundreds of flights over the holidays, citing omicron infections among crews for numerous disruptions. .

Airlines have stepped up incentives for pilots and flight attendants to take trips and alleviate staff shortages that some executives have said could last several more weeks as Covid cases continue to rise.

The Air Line Pilots Association, the union of United pilots, has negotiated triple pay for aviators who fly open trips for most of January, CNBC reported on Friday. United flight attendants and Spirit cabin crews and pilots and others also receive additional compensation during the busy vacation period.

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

“The weather and heavy seasonal traffic are likely to cause travel delays in the coming days,” the agency said in a statement Friday. “Like the rest of the American population, an increased number of FAA employees have tested positive for COVID-19. To maintain safety, the volume of traffic at some facilities could be reduced, which could cause delays during peak periods. “

Airlines have tried to cancel flights in advance so customers don’t get stranded at the airport, overcrowding counters and scrambling to change plans. JetBlue Airways announced this week that it will cut 1,280 flights from its schedule until mid-January to avoid last-minute cancellations as omicron Covid infection crews are on the sidelines.

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

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