The chilly weather combined with the pandemic to frustrate air travelers whose holiday flights back home were canceled or delayed into the first days of the new year.
According to tracking service FlightAware, more than 2,500 US flights and more than 4,100 worldwide flights were halted on Sunday.
This was followed by the cancellation of more than 2,700 US flights on Saturday and more than 4,700 flights worldwide.
“It was utter devastation,” said Natasha Enos, who spent Saturday night and Sunday morning sleepy at Denver International Airport, a short trip on a cross-country trip from Washington to San Francisco.
Saturday’s one-day US toll grounded flights were the highest just before Christmas, when airlines began blaming staff shortages on rising COVID-19 infections among employees.
A winter storm that hit the Midwest on Saturday made Chicago the worst place in the country for travelers to visit over the weekend. About a quarter of flights were canceled at O’Hare Airport on Sunday.
Denver’s airport also suffered significant disruptions. Enos, who was flying on Frontier Airlines ULCC,
It was not known that her connecting flight home to California had been canceled until she had already landed in Denver. Then to find alternate flights and navigate through baggage claims full of stranded and confused passengers, amid concerns about the spread of the highly permeable Omicron version of COVID-19.
“There were too many people in a very small space and not everyone was wearing a mask,” said the 28-year-old financial analyst. “There were so many tired kids and some families were so stressed out.”
In Michigan, the authority that runs Detroit International Airport said crews were working round-the-clock to clear the snow and maintain the airfield. Atlanta’s airport authority advised passengers to arrive earlier than usual due to high passenger volume, potential weather issues and pandemic-fuelled staff shortages, which could increase the time it takes to get through security gates.
And thousands of miles away from the nearest snow storm, Hawaiian Airlines said staff shortages led to the cancellation of several flights between the islands and the Pacific.
Southwest Airlines LUV,
said it was working on Sunday to help customers affected by the nearly 400 canceled flights across the country, which accounted for about 11% of its schedule. The Dallas-based airline anticipates even greater operational challenges as the storm system pushes into the East Coast.
Delta Air Lines DAL,
On Sunday it said it was issuing travel discounts for flights planned this week from mid-Atlantic airports in Baltimore and Washington in preparation for winter forecast.
American Airlines AAL,
said that most of the flights canceled on Sunday were canceled ahead of time to avoid last-minute disruptions at the airport.
A regional carrier that operates flights under the names American Eagle, Delta Connection and United Express has about 500 flights on Sundays, about 20% of its schedule, according to FlightAware.
Airlines have said they are taking steps to reduce cancellations due to workers affected by the Omron version. United UAL,
Most is offering pilots to pay three or more than their normal pay for open flights until January. Spirit Airlines Save,
A union spokesman said as of Tuesday an agreement was reached with the Association of Flight Attendants for double pay for cabin crew.
Airlines expect the extra pay and reduced schedules to get them through the holiday crush and into mid-January, when travel demand typically drops. The seasonal decline this year could be sharper than usual as most business travelers remain closed.