Omicron crew knockouts continue to cause holiday flight havoc

It’s a good thing Santa had his own flight crew.

Travelers around the world faced a holiday full of flight delays and cancelations Saturday as airlines continue to scramble planes and readjust schedules tanked by COVID-driven crew shortages.

As travelers tried to make it home for the holidays, social media was full of references to the 1987 Steve Martin comedy “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” — but few were laughing.

One Twitter user shared her attempts to get from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport to her family in Wisconsin, including potentially taking a bus to Milwaukee.

“But first, I need my checked luggage,” she posted.

The woman was sent to O’Hare’s baggage pickup area, where she was warned she might have to wait up to two hours to claim her luggage. In the meantime, her family decided to drive to Chicago to pick her up themselves.

Major airlines canceled hundreds of flights amid staffing shortages largely tied to the Omicron variant.
AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Baggage claim “only 90 minutes,” she later posted, noting that her bags were on a different carousel than the one she was directed to. “But thanks to @united for this s–t show.”

“It is just unacceptable,” another woman tweeted. “Seems like u guys are totally fine with messing up ppls holiday plans cause u offer nothin to make up for the horrible service other then ‘rebooking’ on s——r flight, just to cancel again and leaving ppl stranded. Just go shut down. Thanks!”


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By 10 a.m. Saturday, 874 US flights were nixed, bringing the worldwide total to more than 2,500. At least 659 US flights were delayed, among more than 4,275 worldwide, according to the tracking website FlightAware.

About five new canceled flights were being added every half hour.

Christmas airport travel.
Friday December 24, 2021
Winter weather in some parts of the country has added to the delays.
Paul Martinka for NY Post

The tangled travel scene was made worse by the spillover from canceled Christmas Eve flights. By the end of Friday, more than 2,000 flights were scrubbed globally, Reuters reported, including nearly 450 in the US.

United alone had about 230 canceled flights on Christmas Day, spokeswoman Maddie King said in an email to The Post. King repeated a statement the carrier has shared repeatedly over the last few days, explaining that “the nationwide spike in Omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation.”

This time of year the airline has an average of about 4,000 flights per day, she added, maintaining that those canceled “represent a small portion of those flights.”

Cancelled United Airlines flights to Chicago O'Hare and Cleveland on the flight information display system at the San Francisco International Airport on Christmas Eve in San Francisco, California, USA, 24 December 2021.
About five new canceled flights were being added every half hour.
EPA/JOHN G. MABANGLO

Many online blamed the delays on airlines that furloughed or fired employees who refused to get vaccinated. United canned more than 200 such workers in October.

A spokeswoman for Delta Airlines said around 158 flights out of its 3,100-flight schedule on Friday were nixed. Without providing specifics, she added that “upwards of 150 cancels are expected Saturday and Sunday.”

Winter weather in the Northeast and Northwest has added to the delays, she said.

JetBlue spokesman Derek Dombrowski said in an email.

Christmas airport travel.
Friday December 24, 2021
Hundreds of flights have been canceled between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Paul Martinka for NY Post

“Delta people are working together around the clock to reroute and substitute aircraft and crews to get customers where they need to be as quickly and as safely as possible,” spokeswoman Kate Modolo said in an email.

JetBlue spokesman Derek Dombrowski said in an email that the New York-based airline “entered the holiday season with the highest staffing levels we’ve had since the pandemic began and are using all resources available to us to cover our staffing needs.”

The airline has nevertheless had to cancel a number of flights due to Omicron spread, he said, but did not provide specifics on the number of aborted trips or delays.

American Airlines did not immediately respond to a request for comment.