The weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s are typically the busiest when it comes to travel, but, between Christmas Eve and now, flights have been delayed or even canceled in record numbers. On Tuesday alone, almost three thousand flights were either delayed or canceled in United States airports. Passengers are stranded at airports across the United States as a result. Many are unable to return home and to work; the majority are being forced to pay for unexpected stays in local hotels and extra meals. Ironically, getting one’s money back from the airline for these expenses is highly unlikely as federal regulations do not force airlines to pay back these monies to consumers.
Airlines have had to either delay or scrap altogether flights during the week between Christmas and New Years for two chief reasons: inclement weather and staffing issues due to COVID-19.
The flight-tracking website FlightAware showed that as of lunchtime on Tuesday, 1,236 flights that were within the U.S. (this includes flights coming into the country as well as those leaving) were canceled with another 1,694 that were only delayed.
Major airports such as those in Chicago, Baltimore, and Denver were located in areas that experienced inclement weather of some kind, which led to “planes and crews being out of position.” A spokesperson for United Airlines said that their canceled flights have been a result of omicron-related health issues that have led to staffing shortages.
Delta Air Lines reiterated a mix of both of these issues. They said their planes and pilots are also dealing with inclement weather across the nation, but that omicron was playing a factor in whether they had to cancel or delay flights as well. Delta is expected less than half of the number of delays and cancellations they experienced on Tuesday.
American Airlines also weighed in: the airline cited both the number of employees calling in sick due to COVID-19 as well as a major storm that hit Washington, DC as factors in the amount of cancellations and/or delays their company had earlier in the week.
COVID-19 cases are surging, so it is difficult to determine when that part of the equation in the delaying or cancellation of flights will begin to decrease.
United Airlines and Spirit Airlines are now offering “pay boosts” to hopefully mitigate the staffing issues all airlines are experiencing currently.
Some airlines are being offered temporary bonuses to pilots and flight attendants willing to pick up the extra flights that have been understaffed due to COVID-19. United is offering a triple time payout for pilots willing to pick up at least one extra trip during the month of January.
Spirit Airlines is offering double-time pay for its flight attendants who are working through Tuesday, January 4.