New York (AFP) – Airlines continued to cancel hundreds of flights today due to staffing issues linked to COVID-19, disrupting holiday celebrations during one of the busiest travel times of the year.
FlightAware, a flight-tracking website, noted that nearly 1,000 canceled flights entered, departed or within the United States today, up from 690 canceled on Friday. More than 250 more flights for Sunday have already been cancelled. FlightAware does not say why the flights are cancelled.
Delta, United and JetBlue said Friday that the omicron variant is causing staffing problems that lead to flight cancellations. United spokeswoman Maddie King said staff shortages were still causing the cancellations and it was not clear when normal operations would return. “This was unexpected,” She said about the effect of omicron on employment. Delta and JetBlue did not respond to questions today.
According to FlightAware, the three airlines canceled more than 10 percent of their scheduled flights on Saturday. American Airlines also canceled more than 90 flights today, about 3 percent of its schedule, according to FlightAware. US spokesman Derek Walls said the cancellation stems from “Sick calls related to COVID.” European and Australian airlines have also canceled flights for the holiday season due to staffing issues linked to COVID-19.
For travelers, this has meant time away from loved ones, chaos at the airport and the stress of spending hours standing in line and on the phone trying to rebook flights. Peter Buckman, a retired actor, and his daughter Malaika, a university student, were supposed to be in Senegal today to celebrate with relatives they haven’t seen in a decade. But their 7:30 p.m. flight on Friday from New York to Dakar was canceled, and they only found out when they got to the airport. They were there until 2am trying to rebook a flight.
“Nobody was organizing, trying to sort things out,” He said, Delta’s fault is for lack of customer service. “No one explained anything. Not even, ‘We’re so sorry, this is what we can do to help you.'”
Their new flight, on Monday evening, has a layover in Paris, and they worry there will be problems on that flight as well. They had already missed a big family meeting that was scheduled for today.
FlightAware data shows airlines have canceled more than 6,000 flights globally for Friday, day and Sunday combined as of this evening, with nearly a third of flights affected to, from or within the United States. Chinese airlines accounted for many canceled flights, and Chinese airports topped FlightAware’s lists of those with the most cancellations. It was not clear why. China is implementing strict measures to control the epidemic, including frequent lockdowns, and the government placed one in Xi’an, a city of 13 million people, earlier this week.
Air China, China Eastern and Lion Air, an Indonesian airline with several canceled flights, did not respond to emails today.
Flight delays and cancellations linked to staff shortages have been a regular problem for the US airline industry this year. Airlines encouraged workers to quit in 2020, when air travel collapsed, and found a staff shortage this year as travel recovers.
To ease staff shortages, countries including Spain and the United Kingdom have reduced the length of their COVID-19 quarantines by allowing people to return to work sooner after testing positive or being exposed to the virus.
Delta CEO Ed Bastian was among those calling on the Biden administration to take similar steps or risk further disruption to air travel. On Thursday, the United States shortened its COVID-19 isolation rules for health care workers only.