FlightAware, a flight tracking website, recorded nearly 1,000 canceled flights entering, leaving, or landing within the US on Saturday, up from 690 flights scrapped on Friday. More than 250 more flights have already been canceled for Sunday. FlightAware doesn’t say why flights are being canceled.
Delta, United and JetBlue had all said on Friday that the Omicron variant was causing personnel problems that resulted in flight cancellations. United spokeswoman Maddie King said staff shortages were still leading to cancellations and it was unclear when normal operations would return. “That was unexpected,” she said of omicron’s impact on staffing levels. Delta and JetBlue didn’t respond to questions on Saturday.
The three airlines have canceled more than 10 percent of their scheduled Saturday flights, according to FlightAware. American Airlines also canceled more than 90 flights on Saturday, which is roughly 3 percent of their flight schedule, according to FlightAware. American spokesman Derek Walls said the cancellations were due to “COVID-related sick leave”.
For travelers, this meant time without loved ones, chaos at the airport and the stress of standing in line and on the phone for hours and rebooking flights. Peter Bockman, a retired actor, and his daughter Malaika, a college student, were due to party in Senegal on Saturday with relatives they hadn’t seen in a decade. However, their flight from New York to Dakar on Friday at 7:30 p.m. was canceled, which they only found out at the airport. They were there until 2 a.m. trying to rebook a flight.
“Nobody organized, tried to sort things out,” he said, criticizing Delta for the lack of customer service. “Nobody explained anything. Not even, ‘Oh, we’re so sorry, this is what we can do to help you.’ “
Their new flight for Monday evening has a layover in Paris, and they fear that this will also cause problems. You have already missed a big family reunion scheduled for Saturday.
FlightAware data shows that by Saturday evening airlines had combined more than 6,000 flights worldwide for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, affecting nearly a third of flights to, from, or within the United States. Chinese airlines made up many of the canceled flights, and Chinese airports topped FlightAware’s list with the most cancellations. It wasn’t clear why. China has tough measures to control the pandemic, including frequent lockdowns, and the government set one earlier this week for Xi’an, a city of 13 million people.
Air China, China Eastern and Lion Air, an Indonesian airline with many canceled flights, didn’t respond to emails on Saturday.
Flight delays and cancellations due to staff shortages are a regular problem for the US airline industry this year. Airlines encouraged workers to quit in 2020 when air traffic collapsed, and were caught under staff shortages that year as tourist traffic rebounded.
To alleviate staff shortages, countries like Spain and the UK have cut the length of COVID-19 quarantines by allowing people to return to work earlier after testing positive or exposure to the virus.
Delta CEO Ed Bastian was among those who have urged the Biden government to take similar steps or risk further disruption to air traffic. On Thursday, the U.S. shortened COVID-19 isolation rules for healthcare workers only.
Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed in any way without permission.