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COVID-19 flight cancellations drag on

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COVID-19 flight cancellations drag on

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NEW YORK –

Airlines continued to cancel hundreds of flights on Saturday due to staffing issues related to COVID-19, disrupting holiday celebrations during one of the busiest travel times of the year.

FlightAware, a flight tracking website, noted nearly 1,000 canceled flights entering, departing or within the United States on Saturday, compared with 690 canceled flights on Friday. More than 250 other flights have already been canceled for Sunday. FlightAware does not say why the flights are canceled.

Delta, United and JetBlue had all said on Friday that the omicron variant was causing staff issues leading to flight cancellations. United spokeswoman Maddie King said staff shortages always caused cancellations and it was not clear when normal operations would resume. “It was unexpected,” she said of omicron’s impact on staffing. Delta and JetBlue did not answer questions on Saturday.

According to FlightAware, the three airlines canceled more than 10% of their scheduled flights on Saturdays. American Airlines also canceled more than 90 flights on Saturday, or about 3% of its schedule, according to FlightAware. US spokesperson Derek Walls said the cancellations stemmed from “COVID-related illness calls.” European and Australian airlines have also canceled flights during the holiday season due to staff issues related to COVID-19.

For travelers, it meant time away from loved ones, chaos at the airport, and the stress of spending hours in line and on the phone trying to book flights. Retired actor Peter Bockman and his student daughter Malaika were due to be in Senegal on Saturday to celebrate with relatives they had not seen in a decade. But their 7:30 p.m. Friday flight from New York to Dakar was canceled, which they only found out when they got to the airport. They were there until 2 a.m. trying to book a flight.

“Nobody was organizing, trying to sort things out,” he said, blaming Delta for a lack of customer service. “No one explained anything. Not even, ‘Oh, we’re so sorry, this is what we can do to help you.’

Their new flight, for Monday night, has a stopover in Paris, and they fear there are issues with that as well. They have already missed a big family reunion that was scheduled for Saturday.

FlightAware data shows airlines have cut more than 6,000 flights globally for Friday, Saturday and Sunday combined as of Saturday night, with nearly a third of affected flights to, from, or from interior of the United States. Chinese airlines accounted for most of the canceled flights, and Chinese airports topped FlightAware’s lists of those with the most cancellations. It was not clear why. China has put in place strict pandemic control measures, including frequent shutdowns, and the government fixed one in Xi’an, a city of 13 million people, earlier this week.

Air China, China Eastern and Lion Air, an Indonesian airline with many canceled flights, did not respond to emails on Saturday.

Flight delays and cancellations linked to staff shortages have been a regular problem for the U.S. airline industry this year. Airlines have encouraged workers to quit in 2020, when air travel collapsed, and have been short-staffed this year as travel recovers.

To alleviate staff shortages, countries like Spain and the UK have reduced the length of COVID-19 quarantines by allowing people to return to work sooner after testing positive or exposed to the virus.

Delta CEO Ed Bastian was among those who called on the Biden administration to take similar action or risk further disruption to air travel. U.S. shortened COVID-19 isolation rules on Thursday

for healthcare workers only.

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