The last day of the year-end holiday travel rush unfolded like every day since Christmas Eve for airline passengers: chaotic.
Airlines canceled more than 2,700 Sunday flights across the country and into and out of the United States, according to flight tracker FlightAware. That’s on top of more than 2,700 Saturday flight cancellations, bringing the total since Christmas Eve to more than 15,000 canceled flights. This weekend’s cancellations marked the worst two-day stretch of the holiday travel season and affected passengers on nearly every U.S. airline.
The travel trouble is continuing Monday amid an East Coast storm, with more than 1,800 U.S. flights canceled as 7 a.m. Monday, according to FlightAware. Southwest Airlines has canceled more than 400 Monday flights, or 12% of its scheduled flights, JetBlue 136 flights, or 13% of its flights.
Blame the weekend travel mess on wintry weather in key airline hubs including Chicago and Denver, and, at some airlines, continuing flight crew shortages due to a surge in COVID sick calls as omicron spreads. More than 600 of Sunday’s flight cancellations were flights to and from Chicago and more than 300 were flights to and from Denver.
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The airlines with the most Sunday cancellations:
►SkyWest Airlines, which operates regional flights for United, Delta, American and Alaska under those airlines’ names: 570 flights, or 23% of scheduled flights. Other regional feeder airlines, including Mesa Airlines, Envoy Air and Air Wisconsin, are also canceling dozens of Sunday flights. Mesa, which flies as American Eagle and United Express, has canceled 27% of its flights and Air Wisconsin, which flies as United Express, has canceled 16% of its flights.
►Southwest Airlines: 436 flights, or 11%. Southwest suspended operations in Chicago on Saturday afternoon due to a snowstorm and it will take time to get its operation back on track. Flight delays are a big problem for the airline on Sunday, too, with more than 1,900 tardy flights. That is more than half of scheduled flights and represents one in five of Sunday’s overall flight delays in the United States.
►Delta Air Lines: 178 flights, or 6%. Delta was one of the first to sound alarms about the impact on staffing from the latest coronavirus wave, with its CEO asking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to cut the isolation time for those testing positive from 10 days to five days. The CDC changed the recommendations just after Christmas.
►JetBlue Airways: 178 flights, or 16%. The New York-based airline announced plans earlier this week to proactively cancel nearly 1,300 flights into mid-January due to staffing issues. The airline warned that the number could grow “until case counts start to come down.”
►American Airlines: 161 flights, or 5%.
►United Airlines: 119 flights, or 5%.
More than ever, travelers need to check their flight status before they head to the airport.
Airlines generally rebook travelers on the next available flight but on some airlines, including discounter Allegiant, that’s not always the next day. The Las Vegas-based airline doesn’t operate its routes every day. lt canceled more than a quarter of its flights on Saturday and 22% on New Year’s Eve. On Sunday, the airline canceled 13% of its flights. Fellow budget airlines Frontier and Spirit canceled 15% percent and 11% of Sunday flights, respectively.
Travelers who don’t like the rebooking option should reach out to the airline for other options but be prepared with other flight times and routing.
Myra Gerst and her partner, Eric Watford, spent Saturday scrambling for a Sunday flight from St. Louis to Salt Lake City. Southwest Airlines canceled their Saturday afternoon flight and the earliest the airline could get them out was Sunday at 6:30 p.m.
“We have to go back to work on Monday and we have a one-year-old baby and getting in at midnight before starting our week on Monday at 8 a.m. didn’t sound so good,” Gerst said.
They booked it as a back up but started searching for earlier flights on other airlines. They found a Delta flight early Sunday morning. it wasn’t cheap: 80,000 Delta frequent flyer miles plus $250.
It took off on time.
Don’t want to take the flight an airline rebooks you on? Travelers whose flights are canceled by the airline are eligible for a refund, not just a future travel credit, regardless of the type of ticket purchased or the cause of the cancellation, per Department of Transportation rules.
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