To paraphrase the Counting Crows, it’s been a long December, but there was no reason to believe this year would be better than the last.
The explosion of new COVID19 cases due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant has brought the nation to a virtual standstill as America posted its highest case numbers of the pandemic this week. And as 2021 comes to close, holiday travelers are finding themselves stranded in airports across the country as the virus is causing record cancellations blamed on staffing shortages and the extreme winter weather.
More canceled flights frustrated air travelers on the final day of 2021 and appeared all but certain to inconvenience hundreds of thousands more over the New Year’s holiday weekend, even as cities were either canceling or seriously reducing planned celebrations to ring in 2022.
“Mild” but hospitals overloaded.
“Mild” but healthcare workers burnt out.
“Mild” but thousands of flights cancelled.
“Mild” but no booster shots for kids in under-ventilated schools.
“Mild” brain damage.
“Mild” collapse of society.
— Eric Feigl-Ding (@DrEricDing) December 31, 2021
By early afternoon Friday on the East Coast, airlines had scrubbed more than 1,400 U.S. flights — about 6% of all scheduled flights — and roughly 2,900 worldwide, according to tracking service FlightAware. That pushed the total U.S. cancellations since Christmas Eve above 9,000, with the peak of 1,520 on December 26th. Led by United and JetBlue, airlines have already canceled more than 1,000 U.S. flights on Saturday and nearly 500 on Sunday.
You know what's crazy? Things with COVID are so bad that flights are getting canceled and businesses are shutting down because too many of their workers are sick. But it's not even February yet, which is when COVID is supposed to be at its worst, according to the IHME model. pic.twitter.com/mNrrRhD5b0
— Marcus J. DiPaola (@marcusdipaola) December 31, 2021
The disruptions come just as travel numbers climb higher going into the New Year’s holiday weekend. Since Dec. 16, more than 2 million travelers a day on average have passed through U.S. airport security checkpoints, an increase of nearly 100,000 a day since November and nearly double last December.
After being stuck in an airport for two days & numerous canceled flights… this incredible sweet girl was on my flight home & didn’t know how much I needed her 🥺 she sat on my lap for so long. we don’t deserve pups ❤️😭 pic.twitter.com/ofuUshV4CS
— sonja (@OMGitsfirefoxx) December 31, 2021
Since March 2020, U.S. airlines have received $54 billion in federal relief to keep employees on the payroll through the pandemic. Congress barred the airlines from furloughing workers but allowed them to offer incentives to quit or take long leaves of absence – and many did. The airlines have about 9% fewer workers than they had two years ago.
I have very little sympathy for the airlines.
1. They spent all their cash reserves on stock buy-backs and executive compensation
2. They took PPP $$$ to stay afloat
3. They reduced staffing to unsustainable levels, violating PPP terms
4. Canceled flights at all-time high
— Mela Storm #Resistance! NO SURRENDER (@StormMela) December 30, 2021
Many airlines are now rushing to hire pilots, flight attendants, and other workers. In the meantime, some are trimming schedules that they can no longer operate. Southwest did that before the holidays, JetBlue is cutting flights until mid-January, and Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific is suspending cargo flights and reducing passenger flights because it doesn’t have enough pilots.
If you're stuck at an airport due to canceled flights…. well… sucks to be you! Don't ask me to feel bad for you when you're traveling during a pandemic at a time when hospitals are crashing.
— Alternative NOAA (@altNOAA) December 24, 2021