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US air travel still messy, with another 2,600 flights scrapped

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Americans returning home from holiday travel had to battle another day of airport chaos on Sunday, with more than 2,600 flights cancelled due to bad weather or airline staffing woes sparked by a surge in Covid cases.

Further disruptions are predicted as a winter storm blows eastward.

As of 10pm more than 2,650 domestic flights or international ones starting or finishing in the United States (US) had been cancelled – almost as many as the 2,750 scrapped over the course of Saturday, said the flight-tracking service FlightAware.

That figure represented well over half of the nearly 4,400 flights cancelled around the world. Almost 8,600 US flights were delayed.

Southwest Airlines, one of the hardest-hit carriers, had to cancel some 400 flights on Sunday morning, a spokesperson said in an email to AFP, adding that it expected further cancellations.

On Saturday, poor weather, much of it linked to Winter Storm Frida, forced Southwest to cancel 490 flights, most of them in the centre-north states south of the Great Lakes and reaching west to the Great Plains.

The result: intense frustration for many travellers.

Airline passengers wait to collect bags from a baggage carousel at the Harry Reid International Airport. PHOTO: AFP

“This is insane,” tweeted Haley, a Southwest passenger who was trying to fly out of Chicago.

“This is the third cancellation and still not home. Was supposed to be home four days ago!!!”
Airports in Chicago – a major transit hub – were the most affected on Saturday, but by Sunday the airports in Atlanta, Denver, Detroit, Houston and Newark were also hard hit.

A woman named Kayla described her own ordeal: “I was supposed to get home at 10.30am yesterday and at this point I’ve had three flights cancelled and one delayed to the point where I missed my connection.”

Around the world, air traffic has suffered snarls since the holidays because of airline staffing issues linked to the spread of the highly contagious Omicron coronavirus variant. Many pilots and flight attendants have called in sick after testing positive for the virus or being forced to quarantine due to contact with someone who has the virus.

This has left carriers with staffing shortages and forced them to delay or cancel flights.

The latest travel chaos carried echoes of a frustrating holiday weekend, when around 7,500 flights around the world were scrapped.

And rebooking cancelled flights has been a major challenge for many. One traveller, Eric Crawford, described his frustration at trying to call a Delta Airline agent to reschedule.

“An estimated wait time of 22+ hours to speak with a rep about a cancelled flight,” he said on Twitter, “is not the best look for starting 2022.”

And Kowshick Boddu offered this account, also on Twitter, about his troubles with Alaska Air: “We were supposed to fly out from Fairbanks to San Jose on December 30, but our flights got rescheduled to today which is eventually cancelled again??? Long customer call wait hours, no response and flights not been rebooked? Need help!!”

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