Pandemic snowstorms and ground flights delay vacation end | Health, Medicine and Fitness
By MATT O’BRIEN – Associated Press
Winter weather combined with the pandemic to frustrate air travelers whose return flights from vacation have been canceled or delayed in the early days of the new year.
More than 2,500 US flights and more than 4,100 around the world were grounded on Sunday, according to tracking service FlightAware.
This followed Saturday’s massive cancellations of more than 2,700 flights in the United States and more than 4,700 worldwide.
“It was absolute chaos,” said Natasha Enos, who spent a sleepless Saturday and Sunday morning at Denver International Airport during what was supposed to be a short layover on a trip across the country from Washington to San Francisco.
The one-day U.S. toll of ground flights on Saturday was the highest since just before Christmas, when airlines began blaming staff shortages on rising COVID-19 infections among crews.
A winter storm that hit the Midwest on Saturday made Chicago the worst place in the country for travelers throughout the weekend. About a quarter of all flights at O’Hare Airport were canceled on Sunday.
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Denver Airport also faced significant disruption. Enos, who flew on Frontier Airlines, did not learn that her connecting flight to California had been canceled until she had already landed in Denver. Then it was a rush to find alternative flights and navigate baggage claims filled with stranded and confused travelers, amid concerns about the spread of the highly transmissible omicron variant of COVID-19.
“It was a lot of people in a very small space and not everyone was hiding,” said the 28-year-old financial analyst. “There were a lot of exhausted children and some families were so stressed.”
In Michigan, the authority that manages Detroit International Airport said crews were working around the clock to remove snow and maintain the airfield. The Atlanta Airport Authority has advised travelers to arrive earlier than usual due to high passenger volumes, potential weather issues and staff shortages caused by a pandemic that could lengthen the time it takes to cross the airport. security barriers.
And thousands of miles from the nearest snowstorms, Hawaiian Airlines said it had to cancel several flights between the islands and across the Pacific due to understaffing.
Southwest Airlines said it was working to help customers affected by about 400 canceled flights across the country on Sunday, or about 11% of its schedule. The Dallas-based airline anticipates even more operational challenges as the storm system expands across the East Coast.
Delta Air Lines said on Sunday it is issuing a travel waiver for flights scheduled this week departing from mid-Atlantic airports in Baltimore and Washington in anticipation of winter weather forecasts.
American Airlines said most of the flights canceled on Sunday were canceled in advance to avoid last-minute disruptions at the airport.
SkyWest, a regional carrier that operates flights under the names of American Eagle, Delta Connection and United Express, grounded nearly 500 flights on Sunday, or about 20% of its schedule, according to FlightAware.
Airlines said they were taking action to reduce cancellations caused by workers affected by the omicron variant. United are offering to pay pilots triple or more of their regular wages to take open flights for most of January. Spirit Airlines has reached a deal with the Association of Flight Attendants for double pay for cabin crew until Tuesday, a union spokesperson said.
Airlines are hoping that extra pay and reduced hours will get them through the holiday season and into the middle of January, when travel demand typically declines. The seasonal decline could be sharper than normal this year as most business travelers are still grounded.
AP Airlines writer David Koenig contributed to this report.
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