Holiday travelers continued to face flight cancellations at New York City-area airports one day after Christmas as omicron infections forced additional staffing issues for airlines.
Since Friday, airlines across the U.S. have been forced to cancel over 1,500 domestic flights, according to a tally by CNBC. United, Delta, American and JetBlue airlines have all blamed their current staffing concerns on the quick-spreading omicron variant.
Before 7 a.m. Sunday, almost 75 flights had already been dumped at JFK, LaGuardia and Newark airports.
FlightAware, a flight-tracking website, noted nearly 1,000 canceled flights entering, leaving or inside the U.S. Saturday, up from 690 flights scrapped on Friday. Over 250 more flights were already canceled for Sunday. FlightAware does not say why flights are canceled.
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European and Australian airlines have also canceled holiday-season flights due to staffing problems tied to COVID.
For travelers, that meant time away from loved ones, chaos at the airport and the stress of spending hours online and on the phone trying to rebook flights. Peter Bockman, a retired actor, and his daughter Malaika, a college student, were supposed to be in Senegal on Saturday celebrating with relatives they hadn't seen in a decade. But their 7:30 p.m. flight Friday from New York to Dakar was canceled, which they only found out when they got to the airport. They were there until 2 a.m. trying to rebook a flight.
“Nobody was organizing, trying to sort things out,” he said, faulting Delta for a 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 are worried there will be issues with that one as well. And they have already missed a big family get-together that was scheduled for Saturday.
Flight delays and cancellations tied to staffing shortages have been a regular problem for the U.S. airline industry this year. Airlines encouraged workers to quit in 2020, when air travel collapsed, and were caught short-staffed this year as travel recovered.
To ease staffing shortages, countries including Spain and the U.K. have reduced the length of COVID-19 quarantines by letting people return to work sooner after testing positive or being exposed to the virus.
Delta CEO Ed Bastian was among those who have called on the Biden administration to take similar steps or risk further disruptions in air travel. On Thursday, the U.S. shortened COVID-19 isolation rules for health care workers only.