Saturday, December 25, 2021

Christmas travel chaos as airlines cancel more than 4,500 flights

Passengers travelling over the Christmas holiday have been hit with disruption worldwide after airline companies cancelled more than 4,500 flights, according to a flight tracking website.

A surge of cancellations on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day came as the rapidly spreading Omicron coronavirus variant meant carriers were unable to staff their flights.

The website of the flight tracking firm FlightAware showed that 2,175 flights around the world had been scrapped on Christmas Eve, a typically heavy day for travel. Around a quarter of those were in the US. Another 1,779 flights were scrapped worldwide on Christmas Day, along with 402 more that had been scheduled for Sunday.

The bulk of the cancellations came from five firms, with China Eastern cancelling 474 journeys, while Air China scrapped 188. United cancelled 177 flights, Air India 160 and Delta called off 150.

United said: “The nationwide spike in Omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation. As a result, we’ve unfortunately had to cancel some flights and are notifying impacted customers in advance of them coming to the airport.”

Meanwhile, Delta said it had “exhausted all options and resources – including rerouting and substitutions of aircraft and crews to cover scheduled flying – before cancelling around 90 flights for Friday”. The airline blamed the impact of the Omicron variant and weather conditions for the cancellations.

In response to the pre-holiday chaos, airlines have called for the relaxation of quarantine rules for vaccinated staff.

Delta’s chief executive, Ed Bastian, has asked the head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to reduce the self-isolation period for vaccinated people experiencing breakthrough infections from 10 to five days. Airlines for America and JetBlue seconded the request.

Airlines’ social media feeds have been filled with frustrated passengers asking for assistance after a spate of cancellations on Christmas Eve owing to the rapidly spreading Omicron variant.

“@Delta really?! You cancel my Christmas Eve flight at 12:30am?? I got up at 2am to get to the airport with my baby and husband and don’t see the cancellation till I’m at the airport to get my bags checked,” one passenger tweeted at the airline on Friday – one of several similar messages directed at carriers that have had to call off flights.

Despite the uncertainties and grim news around the world, millions of Americans carried on with travel plans through a second pandemic-clouded holiday season.

New York planned to sharply limit the number of people it allows in Times Square for its annual outdoor New Year’s Eve celebration, in response to the surge of new coronavirus cases, capping the number of attendees 15,000.

25/12/21 Clea Skopeliti and agencies/Guardian

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