CHICAGO — There could be extra delays for thousands of travelers over Christmas weekend because of the coronavirus pandemic.
United Airlines said in a statement that the spike in omicron variant cases this week across the nation has forced them to cancel some flights because of cases among crew members who were assigned to them.
It’s unclear exactly how many flights are being canceled, but the flight tracking site FlightAware has more than 130 Christmas Eve United flights listed as canceled or delayed.
“As a result, we’ve unfortunately had to cancel some flights and are notifying impacted customers in advance of them coming to the airport,” United said in a statement.
Alaska Airlines put out a similar statement Thursday, confirming that many employees had been exposed to the virus and were following the company’s quarantine guidelines at home.
The airline said 17 flights were canceled Thursday because of the issue, and more could be on the way for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
“We apologize to our guests impacted by the cancellations that may have taken a bit of the merry out of this holiday season,” Alaska said in a statement. “We realize it’s incredibly frustrating when travel doesn’t go as planned, especially now as many of us are eager to connect with family and friends.”
FlightAware is also reporting Delta has more than 90 canceled flights Friday. In a statement, Delta confirmed the omicron variant was responsible for its cancelations.
“Delta teams have exhausted all options and resources — including rerouting and substitutions of aircraft and crews to cover scheduled flying — before canceling around 90 flights for Friday,” company officials said. “We apologize to our customers for the delay in their holiday travel plans. Delta people are working hard to get them to where they need to be as quickly and as safely as possible on the next available flight.”
It’s not clear how widespread coronavirus-related cancelations are across the industry this holiday weekend.
American Airlines said their flights were operating at a “99.7% completion factor,” meaning nearly all of their scheduled flights had no issues.
Christmas is one of the busiest times to travel in the U.S., with AAA predicting more than 109 million people traveling more than 50 miles sometime over the holiday period.
2020 faced a low amount of travelers because of lockdowns and coronavirus fears. But as vaccines become more widespread nationwide, travelers are beginning to see family whom they may not have visited for years. 2021’s estimated totals are about 92% of 2019 travel levels, according to AAA.
The omicron variant of the virus appears to be even more contagious than the dominant delta strain, even among the vaccinated, although it does not appear that the newest strain of concern is as deadly as previous versions of the virus.
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