US flight headaches continue on bad weather, staff shortages

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Susan Decker and Brendan Case Bloomberg News (TNS)

U.S. travel delays stretched into Sunday as a winter storm swept eastward and carriers dealt with staff shortages caused by the rapid spread of the omicron variant.

Cancellations of flights into, out of and within the U.S. exceeded 2,200 as of midday Sunday, with more than 3,600 delays already posted, according to the tracking firm FlightAware.com. That follows Saturday’s tally of more than 2,700 U.S. flights canceled and over 7,300 delayed.

The rocky weekend caps a holiday season marred by a wave of flight disruptions. With the U.S. hitting record COVID-19 infections and related staff absences, the busy travel period has been snarled by at least 13,000 canceled flights since Christmas Eve. At this point, thousands of travelers are attempting to return home after the holidays.

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Globally, the tally of dropped flights topped 3,800 for Sunday, according to FlightAware. Robert Mann, a former American Airlines executive who is now a consultant, said there are about 115,000 flights a day globally during a peak travel period such as Christmas.

Chicago’s O’Hare International is the focus of Sunday’s delays, logging more than 250 cancellations so far of flights scheduled to leave and a comparable number of arrivals. That’s about a quarter of the total for both measures, according to FlightAware. On Saturday, about 45% of flights scheduled to leave from O’Hare and 55% from Chicago Midway were scratched, according to FlightAware.

For Sunday, Southwest Airlines Co. has already canceled 411 flights, or 11% of its schedule. Regional carrier SkyWest Inc. has scrapped 485, or 20%.

A powerful storm across large parts of the country will continue to cause travel disruptions, according to the National Weather Service. The system is now heading east, bringing wintry conditions to New York and New England.

The Transportation Security Administration, which has been grappling with unruly passengers, urged people to “be patient.” Security screened more than 1.6 million people on Friday and a similar number Saturday at checkpoints around the country, it said.

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