Thousands of Christmas-weekend flights were canceled — and thousands more delayed — leaving travelers stranded as they tried to visit family and friends over the holidays.
The Daily Mail dubbed the situation a “Christmas Flightmare,” noting that nearly 1000 flights either entering or leaving the United States were canceled on Christmas Day alone, and some 3000 additional flights were delayed that day as well.
Many of the cancellations and delays were blamed on the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, which is quickly becoming the dominant variant in many countries around the globe.
CNN transportation reporter Pete Muntean had the story going into the holiday weekend, tweeting, “DEVELOPING: United Airlines is canceling more than 100 Christmas Eve flights citing the Omicron variant’s impact on flight crews and workers.”
DEVELOPING: United Airlines is canceling more than 100 Christmas Eve flights citing the Omicron variant’s impact on flight crews and workers.
— Pete Muntean (@petemuntean) December 23, 2021
“UPDATE: Now Delta Air Lines is canceling 90+ flights tomorrow due to a ‘combination of issues’ including the impact of the Omicron variant. ‘Delta teams have exhausted all options and resources,'” he added in a follow-up tweet.
“More than 1500 domestic flights have been cancelled since Friday,” @marketrebels noted as well.
More than 1500 domestic flights have been cancelled since Friday
— Market Rebellion (@MarketRebels) December 26, 2021
Commercial airlines around the world canceled more than 4,500 flights over the Christmas weekend, as a mounting wave of COVID-19 infections driven by the Omicron variant created greater uncertainty and misery for holiday travelers.
Airline carriers globally scrapped at least 2,401 flights on Friday, which fell on Christmas Eve and is typically a heavy day for air travel, according to a running tally on the flight-tracking website FlightAware.com. Nearly 10,000 more flights were delayed.
The website showed that 1,779 Christmas Day flights were called off worldwide, along with 402 more that had been scheduled for Sunday.
Initial predictions suggested that 2021 holiday air travel would surpass prepandemic levels from 2019, but mass cancellations took their toll and drove the final totals down considerably.
“JUST IN: Air travel is HIGHER than pre-pandemic levels. TSA says it screened more people at airports yesterday than on the same day in 2019. 2.08 million vs 1.94 million,” Muntean tweeted Thursday before the cancellations began.
“While the number of people flying out of US airports this year has matched, and at one point exceeded, 2019 levels, Christmas Eve air travel fell sharply below pre-pandemic levels,” CNN reported.
While the number of people flying out of US airports this year has matched, and at one point exceeded, 2019 levels, Christmas Eve air travel fell sharply below pre-pandemic levels. https://t.co/QiAmJuAKJO
— CNN (@CNN) December 25, 2021
From CNN’s full report:
Saturday air travel failed to meet pre-pandemic levels with more than 1.53 million people passing through Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints, versus nearly 2.47 million people passing through US airports in 2019 amid last-minute flight cancellations due to the Omicron surge.
‘JUST IN: @TSA officers screened 1,533,398 people at airport security checkpoints nationwide yesterday, Christmas day,’ TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein tweeted Sunday.
That number is higher than the 1,128,773 people the agency says it screened on Saturday of Christmas week of last year, but it is more than 900,000 fewer than the 2,470,786 people TSA screened on the same day in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic.
Sunday travel was no less complicated, as The Daily Mail reported:
Although Christmas might be over, holiday travelers won’t be able to escape the airport chaos on Sunday as 682 US flights have been canceled and 1,075 more are delayed due to staffing shortages caused by the COVID Omicron surge.