The schedule of flight departures and arrivals was lit up with red cancellation notices on Sunday as airlines continued to cancel flights by the hundreds, upending holiday plans for tens of thousands of travelers.
At Boston’s Logan airport, 53 flights were canceled Sunday and 178 experienced delays. Five flights scheduled to depart on Monday were already canceled on Sunday evening.
The avalanche of cancellations was caused by staffing problems driven by the spread of the highly virulent omicron variant, according to statements from airlines including Delta, United and JetBlue.
More than 1,000 flights entering, leaving or flying within the U.S. were called off Sunday, according to the flight-tracking website FlightAware. That was on par with the roughly 1,000 canceled on Christmas Day. More than 200 flights were already canceled for Monday.
“This was unexpected,” United spokesperson Maddie King said of omicron’s impact on staffing spurring many of the cancelations.
Globally, airlines scrapped about 3,000 flights as of Sunday evening, up from more than 2,800 cancellations the day before, FlightAware’s data showed. .
JetBlue scrapped 10% of its flights Sunday. Delta canceled 5% and United canceled 4%, according to FlightAware. The three airlines canceled more than 10% of their scheduled flights on Saturday.
The cancelations and staffing woes come as travel numbers that were decimated during the pandemic were finally returning to prepandemic levels with TSA reporting more than 2 million travelers on multiple days last week leading up to the Christmas holiday.
American Airlines spokesperson Derek Walls said the Christmas cancellations stemmed from virus-related sick calls.
Flight cancellations across the United States approached 2,400 for the Christmas weekend, disrupting travel on one of the busiest periods of the year.
The airlines’ tie-ups added to evidence of economic disruptions from the omicron variant, whose fast spread is wreaking havoc on businesses even though initial indications suggest that it causes less-severe illness than other COVID-19 strains.
Health care systems are being squeezed by a lack of staff, and a U.S. Navy warship, USS Milwaukee, is stuck at Guantanamo Bay after a COVID-19 outbreak among the 100% vaccinated crew on board.
“Someone should’ve sounded an alarm when they realized people can get omicron after being vaccinated,” said Henry Harteveldt, president of travel consulting firm Atmosphere Research Group. “It doesn’t seem like they planned well enough.”
The disruptions may extend into the New Year’s holiday weekend, he said. Still, U.S. air travel could face less stress if the federal government shortens the required quarantine for industry workers who test positive with the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday reduced isolation time for vaccinated health care workers who contract the virus. Airlines for America, the trade association representing North American carriers, wrote to the CDC asking for the 10-day quarantine period for fully vaccinated individuals to be cut to “no more than five days.”
Flight cancellations are a “concern at a time when people are traveling to spend time with family and friends for the holidays,” Harteveldt said. “No airline wants to be viewed as the Grinch who stole Christmas.”
Herald wire services contributed to this report.
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