Holiday travel pandemonium persists today for the eighth day in a row, with nearly 1,300 U.S. flight cancellations recorded as of 11 a.m. ET, according to ABC News. Up against a perfect storm of internal and external problems, airlines have found themselves forced to cancel close to 10,000 flights since Christmas Eve.
As several million Americans try to travel for the end-of-year holidays this season, airlines are contending with a spate of severe winter weather conditions around the country on top of staffing shortages, which are at least be partially attributable to the rise of the Omicron variant.
A wave of COVID-19 cases currently arising among crew members has left air carriers, which were already strained in terms of meeting staffing requirements for the busy holiday travel season, short-handed.
Adding insult to injury, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has just issued a notice that it’s struggling with staffing issues of its own, which are bound to contribute to continued holiday travel meltdowns. Thanks to the ultra-contagious nature of the Omicron variant, a significant number of FAA employees, including air traffic controllers, are calling out sick right now.
“Like the rest of the U.S. population, an increased number of FAA employees have tested positive for COVID-19,” the FAA communicated in a statement. “To maintain safety, traffic volume at some facilities could be reduced, which might result in delays during busy periods.”
On Thursday, the FAA also warned the traveling public that the current confluence of bad weather, high holiday demand and a fresh COVID-19 surge is, ” likely to result in some travel delays in the coming days.”
The trouble couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time, during what is potentially the busiest travel period the pandemic began, with loads of travelers attempting to cross the country to see loved ones after being largely separated last year.
Roughly 8.5 million passengers are estimated to traverse U.S. airports between now and January 3, according to the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) projections.
To alleviate some of the strain at airports, airlines have begun preemptively canceling flights to provide customers time to rebook. Unfortunately, that also means that the thousands of travelers whose flights have been cut are phoning the airlines’ customer service lines, causing very long hold times. On Thursday, Alaska Airlines was reporting wait times up to 20 hours long, while JetBlue quoted a hold time of two hours and 16 minutes, and Delta one hour and 35 minutes.