Flight Cancellations Rock New Year’s Weekend: What’s The Latest?

Thousands of flights have been canceled across North America due to severe weather and surging COVID-19 infections. This wave of disruption comes at the tail end of the hectic holiday season, leaving many without a quick way to get home. So what’s the latest on this situation?

Southwest Airlines’ planners proactively suspended operations at both Chicago airports as of 13:00 CST Saturday. This was in anticipation of gusty winds and blowing snow brought on by winter storm Frida. Photo: Southwest Airlines

More than 1000 US flights canceled for Sunday

The combination of poor winter weather and surging cases of infections caused by the Omicron COVID-19 variant is taking its toll on air travel in both the United States and Canada.

According to CNBC, airlines canceled over 2,600 flights in the US just on January 1st. With no immediate relief to the situation, over 1,000 more flights in the US set to take off on Sunday were also canceled. A total of 13,700 US flights have been canceled since December 24th, with thousands more experiencing delays.

In Canada, WestJet cut 15% of its flights due to staffing shortages prompted by Omicron infections. Global News adds that smaller Canadian carrier Pacific Coastal suspended all of its flights for January 2nd and 3rd, also due to an infection outbreak among staff.

Major US airlines impacted

US carriers across the board have had to cancel flights, including American Airlines, United Airlines, JetBlue, and Delta Air Lines.

CNBC notes the following cancellation figures for Saturday, January 1st:

  • American Airlines: 208 flights, or 7%
  • United Airlines: 158 flights, or 7%
  • Delta Air Lines: Nearly 200 flights, or 9%

In a statement issued to Simple Flying, United Airlines cited the nationwide spike in Omicron cases as having a direct impact on flight crews and other operational staff.

“As a result, we’ve unfortunately had to cancel some flights and are notifying impacted customers in advance of them coming to the airport. We’re sorry for the disruption and are working hard to rebook as many people as possible and get them on their way during the holidays.” -United Airlines

Southwest Airlines Chicago ops hit hard

Citing the advance of Winter Storm Frida across the middle of the US, Southwest Airlines “proactively suspended operations at both Chicago airports as of 1pm CST [Saturday].” The airline told Simple Flying that it operates well over 200 departures a day at Chicago Midway alone and anticipates the gusty winds and blowing snow.

“…Decades of our history operating in this airport show us will slow down the airspace and also make deicing and getting aircraft back into the air very challenging.” -Southwest Airlines

The airline adds that it had 3,518 flights scheduled going into Saturday and has 3,629 flights scheduled for today (Sunday). However, it notes that its lack of hub-and-spoke operations is an asset, saying:

“Without a hub-spoke type operation, Southwest has an availability to ‘get you from here to there a half-dozen other ways’ when nonstop service is not operating. This perspective is important. No doubt, for passengers of all air carriers, Chicago travel will be tough today.”

Proactively canceling flights, the airline insists it is making the right call, keeping people from driving to airports to wait on long-delayed flights. This has allowed its customers to self-serve online or on the phone without standing in a line.

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Hope for the best, prepare for the worst

If you have a flight coming up in the next few days, it’s advisable to check your booking via the reservation management systems available online for almost all airlines. As airlines should keep you notified of changes to your flight, ensure that your contact information is up to date, whether it’s your phone number or email address.

Winter weather has hit Canada, but COVID-19 seems to be having a larger impact. Photo: Acefitt via Wikimedia Commons 

While cancellations are only impacting a small percentage of overall operations, those with flights in the near future may also want to develop backup plans for the possibility of a canceled flight- whether it’s adjusting accommodation plans to remain in place slightly longer or finding alternate transport.

Have you been impacted by flight cancellations over this holiday period? Share your experience with us by leaving a comment.

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