Widespread Flight Cancellations Continue as Omicron Surges

More than 850 flights were cancelled by midday Wednesday, and that number has increased throughout the day.

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Hundreds of flights were cancelled Wednesday as the Omicron variant creates havoc both for travelers and for airlines. The spreading of the virus has halted flights due to lack of staff as pilots, flight attendants and ground crews report infections and exposure. More than 850 flights were cancelled by midday Wednesday and that number has ticked higher throughout the day, according to data from the flight-tracking website FlightAware.

Nearly 1,300 cancellations were reported Tuesday in the U.S. for both domestic and international flights, slightly less than about 1,500 on Monday. Cancellations began to spike the day before Christmas during what is already a buzzing pace for airlines this time of year.

Delta, United and JetBlue cited staffing issues caused by Omicron for their widespread disruptions. SkyWest, a regional airline based in Utah, led U.S. carriers with 215 cancellations so far, followed by United with 159 and Delta with 109 on Wednesday. SkyWest has suffered an elevated level of cancellations after severe weather hit several of its hubs, but it's reporting the same staffing issues due to Covid-19.

The Pacific Northwest was slammed with cold and heavy snow over the weekend. Among U.S. airports, Seattle-Tacoma had the highest percentage of incoming and outgoing flights cancelled Wednesday, according to FlightAware.

Omicron has intensified already significant staffing issues for airlines, which winnowed workforces in 2020 as air travel collapsed, only to be broadsided when vaccination rates jumped and millions of people felt comfortable flying again this year. That could translate to travel headaches for hundreds of thousands of people if cancellations maintain the current pace into the weekend.

The Transportation Security Administration expects the Monday after New Year’s will be one of the busiest days of the holiday season. According to TSA checkpoint data, the numbers of people flying this holiday season far exceeds last year — before Covid-19 vaccinations were available — but still trails 2019 traveler numbers.