Travelers push their luggage past the baggage claim area at the United Airlines terminal at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) during the holiday season as the Omicron variant threatens to increase cases in Los Angeles, California due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) , USA, December 22. 2021
Bing Guan | Reuters
Airlines canceled more than 2,400 flights to the United States on New Year’s Day as they faced severe weather across the country and a sharp increase in omicron incidence among employees, disrupting flights over the weekend at the end of the year.
Since Christmas Eve, airlines have canceled more than 12,000 flights to the United States and have been forced to postpone thousands more, according to flight tracking website FlightAware.
Travel problems occur on what airlines expect to be some of the busiest days since the pandemic began. Last year, the Transportation Security Administration checked nearly 580 million people, up 79% from 2020, but still about 30% less than in 2019 before the pandemic.
Southwest Airlines largely avoided the major disruptions that plagued rivals over the holidays, according to FlightAware, but canceled 472 flights on Saturday, 13% of its schedule. The airline suspended operations at Chicago airports from 1:00 pm local time ahead of a severe winter storm.
The airline operates over 200 daily flights from Chicago Midway International Airport. An airline spokesperson said flights were cut because planners “anticipated gusty winds and blizzards that our decades of history at the airport have shown will slow airspace and make deicing and re-airing very difficult. “The Southwest spokesperson had no staffing issues.
While weather was the reason for many canceled flights on New Year’s Day, carriers including United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and JetBlue Airways canceled hundreds of flights over the holidays, citing omicron contamination among crews on many occasions.
Airlines have increased incentives for pilots and flight attendants to select flights and have reduced staff shortages that some executives say could last several weeks as the number of Covid cases continues to rise.
The Airline Pilots Association, a united union of pilots, has agreed to triple pay for aviators who fly open for most of January, CNBC reported Friday. Flight attendants at United, flight attendants and pilots from Spirit and others also receive extra pay during busy vacations.
Earlier this week, the Federal Aviation Administration also said the disruptions were likely to continue.
“Weather and heavy seasonal traffic are likely to result in some travel delays in the coming days,” the agency said in a statement Friday. “Like the rest of the US population, an increasing number of FAA personnel have tested positive for COVID-19. To maintain safety, the volume of traffic at some sites may be reduced, which can lead to delays during busy periods. “
Airlines have tried to cancel flights in advance so customers don’t get stuck at the airport, overwhelmed ticket offices, and try to change their plans. JetBlue Airways said this week that it will cut its schedule by 1,280 flights until mid-January to avoid last-minute cancellations due to side effects from omicron Covid-infected crews.
American Airlines, which operates a major hub from O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, canceled 205 flights, or 7% of its operations, on Saturday, according to FlightAware. Chicago-based United has canceled 153.7% of its major flights.