The holiday travel nightmare worsened on New Year’s Day with flight cancellations hitting a peak of more than 2,400 nationwide due to poor weather conditions and the impacts of the Omicron variant of COVD-19.
By Saturday afternoon, approximately 2,495 flights scheduled to enter, leave or fly within the United States were cancelled and about 5,888 were delayed, according to tracking service FlightAware.
That is the highest single-day toll since just before Christmas, when airlines began blaming staffing shortages on increasing coronavirus infections among crews. More than 12,000 domestic flights have been canceled since Dec. 24.
In an effort to combat the travel disruptions, airlines say they are taking steps to reduce cancellations.
United has offered to pay pilots three times or more of their usual wages for picking up open flights through mid-January. Southwest and others have also raised premium pay for some workers.
Despite those efforts, however, many travelers remain trapped and feel frustrated as they try to make it back home.
The holiday travel nightmare worsened on New Year’s Day with flight cancellations hitting a peak of more than 2,400 nationwide due to poor weather conditions and the impacts of the Omicron variant of COVD-19 (Pictured: Security lines at Dallas Love Field airport on Dec. 31)
By Saturday afternoon, approximately 2,495 flights scheduled to enter, leave or fly within the United States were cancelled and about 5,888 were delayed (Pictured: Travelers wearing masks at Love Field in Dallas on Dec. 31)
The Omicron variant is spreading at an alarming rate across the US, causing major disruptions to air travel as crew members battle the virus.
Flight cancellations jumped by nearly 800 flights Saturday, surpassing the previous 2021 holiday-high of 1,625 cancellations on New Year’s Eve.
Southwest appeared to be hardest-hit among US air carriers, cancelling 13 percent of its flights on Saturday. The airline cited winter storms as the primary reason for cancellations.
JetBlue delayed 24 percent of its total fleet, or 251 flights. The airline suffered the largest percentage of delays among US carriers, although larger airlines – such as Southwest and United – actually had more delayed routes.
Southwest, which has major operations in storm-impacted Chicago and Denver, canceled more than 474 flights nationwide, or 13 percent of its schedule, by early afternoon.
American, Delta, United and JetBlue scrubbed more than 100 flights apiece.
SkyWest, a regional carrier that operates flights under the names American Eagle, Delta Connection and United Express, grounded more than 400 flights, or 21 percent of its schedule.
Flight cancellations jumped by nearly 800 flights Saturday, surpassing the previous 2021 holiday-high of 1,625 cancellations on New Year’s Eve
The Federal Aviation Administration on Friday warned that even more flights could be canceled as its air traffic control staff are hit by COVID, even as airlines themselves nix thousands of flights because of staff felled by the Omicron variant.
In a statement, the FAA said an increasing number of its employees are testing positive for the virus, CNN reports, which could force it to implement health and cleaning procedures that will reduce the number of available flights.
‘To maintain safety, traffic and volume at some facilities could be reduced, which might result in delays during busy periods,’ the administration warned.
The FAA doesn’t actually schedule flights – but its vital role in organizing air traffic across the US means that airlines would be forced to ax flights if there aren’t enough controllers available to manage the skies safely.
On Thursday, Delta projected 200 to 300 daily cancellations for the weekend due to Omicron and inclement weather, Forbes reported.
Meantime, United is trying to combat shortages by offering pilots three-and-a-half times their pay for additional flights flown between December 30 and January 3.
Flight operations executive Bryan Quigley, in a note to staff obtained by NBC News, said the airline is also for offering triple pay to pilots who fly extra between January 4 and 29.
In an effort to combat the travel disruptions, airlines say they are taking steps to reduce cancellations (Pictured: A crowded terminal at JFK airport in NYC on Dec. 28)
United has offering to pay pilots triple or more of their usual wages for picking up open flights through mid-January. Southwest and others have also raised premium pay for some workers (Pictured: Travelers at Miami International Airport on Dec. 28)
Despite these efforts, holiday travelers remain frustrated as they remained trapped, routes are changed and airports crowded (Pictured: A traveler sleeping at LAX on Dec. 31)
Quigley referred to the offer as ‘significant,’ noting United reached the agreement with the Airline Pilots Association in an effort ‘to do everything we can to take care of our customers during this challenging time.’
Although pay has increased, pilots will still be under the same rest requirements and hours they are permitted to work.
‘The main thing is that most pilots have room in their schedules (within the limits) to pick up extra trips, and this gives them additional compensation if they choose to do that,’ an unnamed company official told the news outlet.
It is unclear if other crew members, such as flight attendants, will receive additional pay amid the flight crisis.
Despite these efforts, holiday travelers remain frustrated as routes are changed and airports remain crowded. Many have taken to social media to express their detest.
‘It would have been quicker and easier if they canceled this flight and I DROVE to Chicago,’ tweeted @mulkshakes, whose bio says they reside in Seattle.
‘Flight was canceled so now I can’t go home till Monday,’ wrote @s_spwter. ‘What a wonderful way to start the year ._.’
Many holiday travelers have taken to social media to express their detest
User @jaxeatsrocks took to Twitter to declare their frustrations with the air travel industry and pandemic.
‘Flight canceled. F**k United. F**k Chicago. F**k Covid,’ Jax said. ‘Just get me home, I don’t care what I have to do, I just want to go home.’
The new Omicron variant of COVID has swept the nation over the course of the past month and is expected to peak at up to five million cases per week by the beginning of January.
In total, 443,538 cases were recorded Saturday as compared to 587,143 on Friday. 825,311 were deaths have been recorded in total with 1,409 reported as of Friday.
On a national level, about 54.6 million cases and 824,000 deaths have been recorded. Hospitalizations in the US have also increased to 83,451 as of Friday with the numbers of infections continuing to spike.
This comes after the nation hit another global record when 647,067 new cases had been reported on Thursday.
54,570, 527 total COVID cases were recorded for the US with 443, 538 cases recorded for January 1 as compared to 587, 143 on Friday
In terms of the death toll, 825,311 were recorded in total with 1,409 reported as of Friday
This comes after 54, 252, 612 cases were recorded Friday
The US broke a world record for average daily COVID cases for the second day in a row with 647,067 reported on Thursday
In total, the United States recorded 2.49 million cases within the past week, outpacing the country’s previous record of 1.7 million new cases recorded in the one-week period from January 3 through January 9.
With the case count rising so rapidly, partly due to the highly contagious Omicron variant, the CDC estimates that more than three Americans are testing positive every second.
However, Saturday’s flights disruptions aren’t solely due to the virus. Wintry weather made Chicago the worst place in the country for travelers, with 800 flights scrubbed at O’Hare Airport and more than 250 at Midway Airport. Forecasts called for nine inches of snow.
Denver, Detroit and Newark, New Jersey, were hit with at least 100 cancellations each.
When winter weather hit the Pacific Northwest earlier this week, Alaska Airlines urged customers to delay any ‘non-essential’ trips that were planned through this weekend.
With full flights over the New Year’s holiday, the airline said it wasn’t sure it could rebook stranded passengers for at least three days.
Despite the cancellations, the Transportation Security Administration expects 10 million more people to pass through airport screening sites by the end of Monday.
The flight authority and had already screened more than 2 million at its checkpoints on Thursday.