Holiday flight cancellations soar with Covid-19 disruptions and bad weather

Thousands of US flights were canceled over New Year’s weekend as a combination of Covid-19 disruptions and wintry weather slowed travel. Flight cancellations have trended up steadily since Christmas Eve, hitting a new peak Saturday as millions travel over the holidays.

Data from the website FlightAware shows more than 4,731 flights were canceled globally on Saturday — by far the largest day of cancellations since the meltdown began Christmas Eve. At least 2,739 of the cancellations were within, into or out of the United States.

Sunday cancellations in the United States already number 2,600 flights, FlightAware showed, and global cancellations reached roughly 4,000.

Sunday is generally the busiest travel day of the week, and this Sunday is likely a heavy travel day as the Christmas holiday and New Years week wrap up. The Transportation Security Administration said Thursday it expected to screen 10 million people from Friday through Monday.

Southwest, JetBlue, Delta and American Airlines each have over 100 canceled flights Sunday.

Including Sunday, airlines have canceled more than 14,000 flights in the last 10 days, including Christmas Eve, per a CNN tally of FlightAware data.

The problem is likely to continue into next week because it takes time for airlines to recover from the weather issues alone. More than 310 US flights are already canceled for Monday.

The cancellations were across the board for US carriers. The big four on Saturday: Southwest canceled 13%, Delta 10%, American and United 8%.

One quarter of flights departing Chicago O’Hare Sunday were canceled, after 44% of flights out of O’Hare were canceled Saturday and 54% of flights were canceled from Midway.

Allegiant canceled 27% of its Saturday schedule, or 64 flights. Spokeswoman Hilarie Grey acknowledged weather and Covid-19 staffing issues in a message to CNN.

“As you’ve noted, we continue to have an unusual number of cancellations this week — some have been due to severe weather, and some due to other factors -— including the type of unanticipated staff impacts from COVID experienced by other airlines and partners in places where we fly.

“The ongoing impact of these factors is not something we can predict, but we do anticipate additional delays and cancellations this week, unfortunately. Of course when an unanticipated disruption to travel occurs, customer care notifies the affected passengers directly and relays options to be re-accommodated to another flight, receive a refund, credit or other compensation.”

A perfect storm

Airlines have already been dealing with the Omicron variant, which has brought an unprecedented spike in Covid-19 cases, and many airline employees have been unable to work. The Federal Aviation Administration has also warned more of its own employees are testing positive, which may restrict flights.

Now a new challenge is adding to travelers’ woes: a large storm is sweeping across the Rockies and Midwest, bringing ice and heavy snow. Nearly a quarter of flights at Kansas City International Airport were canceled Saturday. In Detroit, airlines canceled one in five flights.

Delta Air Lines told CNN Business it projects between 200 and 300 of its more than 4,000 daily flights will be canceled during the holiday weekend. It also recommended people traveling in Chicago, Detroit, Salt Lake City, Seattle and the central and southern Rocky Mountain regions consider shifting their travel plans given the weather.

Southwest Airlines told CNN Business all of its issues have been caused by weather.