Holiday travelers scramble as airlines cancel waves of flights
Airlines canceled hundreds of flights as the omicron variant jumbled schedules and drew down staffing levels at some carriers during the busy holiday travel season.
Delta Air Lines and United Airlines said they canceled dozens of flights because of staff shortages tied to the omicron variant. Delta canceled 145 flights on Friday and 111 for Christmas Day, according to FlightAware. (Other factors, such as weather, are also causing cancellations.) United called off 175 flights on Friday and 69 on Saturday.
“The nationwide spike in omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation,” United said in a prepared statement. “As a result, we’ve unfortunately had to cancel some flights and are notifying impacted customers in advance of them coming to the airport.”
The airline said it was working to rebook as many people as possible.
Delta said it canceled flights Friday because of the impact of omicron and possibility of bad weather after it had “exhausted all options and resources — including rerouting and substitutions of aircraft and crews to cover scheduled flying.”
It said in a statement that it was trying to get passengers to their destinations quickly.
While some travelers canceled holiday plans because of rising case numbers, many others kept to their vacations during some of the year’s busiest travel days. The Transportation Security Administration said it expects to screen nearly 30 million people from Dec. 20 through Jan. 3, compared with nearly 44 million during the last holiday season before the pandemic.
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Read on for travel tips and get more information on staying safe as the latest variant spreads.
You’ve heard the incessant announcements at the boarding gate, pleading with people to check their roller bags on full flights.
The earlier you check your bag, the earlier it’s loaded. If the last person to board is the one whose bag gets pried from their hands and sent to cargo, it’s more likely that takeoff will be delayed than had all bags been loaded earlier. Thankfully, many airline credit cards offer free checked bags, and it’s also a perk often offered to airline elite status members. So you might want to think about checking your bag at the counter before you even get through security. Or, if you know you’ll be last to board anyway, gate-check it early.
When it comes to cleaning, many hotel companies provide housekeeping only upon request. Consider if you really need it — or if you can make your own bed.
The leisure and hospitality industry lost 8.2 million jobs in March and April 2020 — an employment decline of 49%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. While travel-related jobs are returning (the air transportation sector added 9,200 jobs in October and the accommodations sector added 23,200 jobs), be cognizant that employees may be new, and companies may still be short-staffed. If you use services like housekeeping, tip generously.
In some cases, technology can solve problems you might otherwise have needed an employee for.
Use mobile check-in to display your airline boarding pass on your phone, no printing necessary. You can also expedite your security wait time with apps like Clear, which use biometric data and allow you to skip to the front of the line. Some hotels can send virtual keys via mobile check-in, so you can skip the front desk altogether. Preorder meals online so cashiers don’t have to take your order.
Nam Y. Huh
A June letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland from 10 major pilot and flight attendant unions cited a “substantial increase in and growing escalation of passengers’ unruly and disruptive behavior onboard aircraft, particularly toward crewmembers.”
About 73% of 2021’s unruly passenger reports have been mask-related, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
“The duty of enforcing this rule falls to our pilots and flight attendants at 30,000 feet, and passengers who refuse to comply make our difficult jobs harder than they have to be,” said Capt. Eric Ferguson, president of the Allied Pilots Association, a union representing American Airlines pilots, in an August statement.
Even if you disagree with policies, respect the employees who have to follow them. And understand that COVID-19 safety rules vary by location. One city might be tougher than another, so don’t be surprised if your road trip lunch break is mask-free but you’re required to don masks during dinner.
Given the rate of unruly passenger reports, it’s perhaps no coincidence that some airlines have suspended in-flight alcoholic beverage service. Even if you’re having a tipple in the terminal before takeoff, drink and act appropriately.
Anywhere you go, have respect for others’ personal space — especially during a pandemic — and remember that a little kindness goes a long way in the service industry.
It’s OK to complain when things are truly bad. Most travel companies offer online customer service forms, and many use social media to field complaints. Just remember that the customer service employee may not have the power to immediately fix the situation.
Sure, there are the grumpy or entitled folk who act like one-star travelers at airports and hotels, but it doesn’t help anyone to be that person. To have a five-star travel experience, first be a five-star traveler yourself.