Extreme climate, omicron infections drive hundreds extra U.S. flight cancellations

Airlines canceled more than 2,600 U.S. flights on New Year’s Day as they faced severe weather conditions across the country and an increase in employee Omicron infections, affecting air travel during the year-end vacation.

The problems are not resolved that quickly. By Saturday afternoon, the airlines had already canceled more than 1,000 US flights planned for Sunday. More than 13,700 U.S. flights have been suspended and thousands more delayed since Christmas Eve, according to flight tracking site FlightAware.

The travel problems occur during the airlines which are among the busiest days since the pandemic began. Last year, the Transportation Security Administration screened nearly 580 million people, up 79% from 2020 but still a decrease of about 30% from pre-pandemic 2019.

Southwest Airlines had largely escaped some of the serious disruptions affecting the rivals over the holidays, but scrubbed 473 flights on Saturday, 13% of the schedule, according to FlightAware. More than 600 more were delayed. Because of a severe winter storm, the airline stopped flight operations at Chicago airports from 1 p.m. local time.

Southwest has more than 200 daily departures from Chicago Midway International Airport. An airline spokeswoman said flights were suspended because planners expected “the gusty winds and snowdrifts that show us decades of operations at this airport will slow down the airspace, de-icing and reloading of planes.” make it very difficult. “The spokeswoman for Southwest had no staffing problems.

The Federal Aviation Administration has also slowed traffic at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. American Airlines‘largest hub, due to staffing levels. Earlier this week, the agency warned the disruption would continue.

“Weather and heavy seasonal traffic will likely lead to some travel delays in the coming days,” the agency said on Friday. “Like the rest of the US population, an increased number of FAA employees have tested positive for COVID-19. To ensure safety, the volume of traffic in some facilities could be reduced, which can lead to delays in peak times. “

While the weather caused many of the cancellations on New Year’s Day, airlines have included United Airlines, Delta Airlines and JetBlue Airways canceled hundreds of flights over the holidays, citing omicron infections among the crews for many of the disruptions.

Airlines have increased incentives for pilots and flight attendants to take trips and remove staffing bottlenecks that some executives say could last for several weeks as Covid cases continue to rise.

The Air Line Pilots Association, United Pilots’ Union, negotiated triple pay for fliers picking up open travel for most of January, CNBC reported on Friday. United flight attendants and both cabin crew and pilots spirit and others receive bonuses even during the busy holiday season.

Airlines have tried to cancel flights early so customers don’t get stuck at the airport, overwhelm ticket counters and have to change their plans. JetBlue announced this week that it will be 1,280 flights deleted from the flight schedule by mid-January in order to avoid short-term cancellations, as the crews of Omicron Covid infections are on the sidelines.

American, which operates a major hub out of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, canceled 208 flights, or 7% of its operations, on Saturday, FlightAware data showed. Chicago-based United has canceled 158.7% of its main-haul flights. Delta has canceled nearly 200 flights, 9% of its Saturday flight schedule.

Airlines executives said they expect travel demand to rise in 2022 and have prepared to expand their schedules and recruit new employees.

Southwest has surpassed its goal of hiring more than 5,700 employees, including onboarding staff and expanded offerings, Greg Muccio, Southwest’s senior director of talent acquisition, wrote in an employee release Thursday. The airline is aiming for another 8,000 more employees next year.

However, the omicron variant is a new challenge for carriers.

“While we expect a full recovery in 2022, it will be a two-half year,” said JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes in an employee New Years Day memo seen by CNBC. “Our traditional lows, especially in the next few weeks after the holidays and as COVID-19 cases rise, are going to be tough.”

However, Hayes said that JetBlue expects an “exceptionally busy summer and plans to take advantage of this opportunity as we continue to expand our fleet and offer low fares on additional routes.”