Flight cancellations snarl holiday plans for thousands

New York: Airlines continued to cancel hundreds of flights Saturday because of staffing issues tied to COVID-19, disrupting holiday celebrations during one of the busiest travel times of the year.

FlightAware, a flight-tracking website, noted nearly 1,000 cancelled flights entering, leaving or inside the US Saturday, up from 690 flights scrapped on Friday. Over 250 more flights were already cancelled for Sunday. FlightAware does not say why flights are cancelled.

Delta, United and JetBlue had all said Friday that the Omicron variant was causing staffing problems leading to flight cancellations. United spokesperson Maddie King said staffing shortages were still causing cancellations and it was unclear when normal operations would return. This was unexpected, she said of Omicron's impact on staffing. Delta and JetBlue did not respond to questions Saturday.

According to FlightAware, the three airlines cancelled more than 10 per cent of their scheduled Saturday flights.

American Airlines also cancelled more than 90 flights Saturday, about 3 per cent of its schedule, according to FlightAware. American spokesperson Derek Walls said the cancellations stemmed from COVID-related sick calls." European and Australian airlines have also cancelled holiday-season flights because of staffing problems tied to COVID-19.

For travellers, that 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 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 pm flight Friday from New York to Dakar was canceled, which they found out only when they got to the airport. They were there until 2 am 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. They have already missed a big family get-together that was scheduled for Saturday. FlightAware's data shows airlines scrapped more than 6,000 flights globally for Friday, Saturday and Sunday combined as of Saturday evening, with almost one-third of affected flights to, from or within the United States. Chinese airlines made up many of the cancelled flights, and Chinese airports topped FlightAware's lists of those with most cancellations.

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