Passengers crowded Los Angeles International Airport and other airfields across the country on Sunday morning as weather issues and staff shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a wave of holiday weekend cancellations.
Travel industry officials prepared for further travel agony throughout the day as plans for many of the 200,000 passengers expected to fly to or from LAX were disrupted by the cancellation of at least 87 flights, said Charles Pannunzio, an airport spokesman.
The tracking site FlightAware.com has recorded more than 700 cancellations to or from the United States and more than 2,200 total cancellations worldwide.
There were 96 cancellations at LAX on Christmas Day, compared to nearly 1,000 cancellations across the country, according to FlightAware.
Aggravating problems for the masses of vacationers: Maintaining social distance to avoid contagion was difficult even with a new, nationwide mask requirement for indoor use, which came into force earlier this week.
“We’re doing everything we can; from signage and audio announcements to social media messages and thorough cleaning, “said Heath Montgomery, LAX spokesman,” but we rely most on individual passengers to be good fellow travelers. “
The travel boom has coincided with a surge in COVID-related hospital admissions in the state and the surge in new Omicron cases over the past three weeks. Overall, hospital admissions for COVID-19 increased 16% nationwide and 39% in Los Angeles County during that time, and the Omicron variant was confirmed in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Bernardino and Ventura counties.
Delta, Jet Blue and United officials said on Sunday that staffing shortages, which appear to have contributed to a surge in flight cancellations due to new Omicron cases, were unexpected and it was not clear when air traffic would return to normal.
As of Sunday, United had a total of 98 cancellations nationwide related to COVID staffing concerns from more than 4,000 scheduled flights, said Maddie King, a United spokeswoman. Approximately 50% of customers whose travel was interrupted arrived at their final destination either early or within four hours of their original scheduled flight.
“The nationwide surge in Omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the staff in our operation,” she said. “As a result, we unfortunately had to cancel some flights and inform affected customers in advance before they come to the airport. We apologize for the inconvenience and are working hard to rebook as many people as possible and get them off on vacation. “
No surprise, says Montgomery. “We share a connected national airspace,” he said, “so if something happens here or on the east coast, we all feel its effects.”
The airport expected its peak on December 17th, 19th and 26th and January 2nd with more than 200,000 travelers per day. But growing frustrations and problems were reflected in recent tweets from LAX.
“Our flights at LAX are now over 90% on time with 25 cancellations of 1,028 scheduled flights,” tweeted LAX on Friday at 9:23 am.
An updated tweet five hours later states, “We saw some additional cancellations tonight, so please check with your airline for the latest flight status. Arrive early, we will be busy tonight! Check parking at
http://parking.flylax.com and @FlyLAXstats. “
On Sunday morning the airport announced: “Today is expected to be another peak travel day at the #LAX with up to 200,000 passengers using the airport! Make sure you get to your flight early, book the parking space in advance at http://parking.flylax.com and please wear your mask – and wish everyone #HealthyHolidays #LAXTravelSafely. “
An estimated 3.5 million visitors are expected at LAX between Thursday and January 3, a return to almost 2019 levels when 4.5 million travelers used the airport over the same period in the last holiday season before the pandemic.
“Last year, 1.85 million passengers flew through LAX in that time, which is almost twice as busy this year,” airport officials said in a press release earlier this month.
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