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U.S. airlines cancel more than 1,000 flights on the day before New Year’s Eve

Travelers wait in line to check in for flights at an airport
Airports in Denver, Atlanta and Los Angeles were among the hardest hit by cancellations and delays Thursday afternoon. Above, travelers wait in long lines at LAX on Monday.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Airline cancellations are already piling up in the U.S., with 1,125 flights scrubbed as rising coronavirus cases hobbled staffing. Winter storms, meanwhile, threatened to further disrupt travel over New Year’s weekend.

JetBlue Airways Corp. scratched 175 flights, or 17% of its schedule, by 4:20 p.m. Thursday in New York, according to FlightAware.com. Allegiant canceled 96 flights, or 19% of its service. United Airlines scrubbed 199 flights, representing 9% of its schedule.

The disruptions come after thousands of flights were canceled over the Christmas holiday weekend and into early this week as winter storms combined with staffing shortages caused by the spread of coronavirus cases from the Omicron variant.

“Like many businesses and organizations, we have seen a surge in the number of sick calls from Omicron,” JetBlue said by email. To give customers time to make other plans, the New York carrier pared its schedule through Jan. 13.

Although federal guidance reducing the isolation period for many people testing positive to five days from 10 is expected to help staffing, “we expect the number of COVID cases in the Northeast — where most of our crew members are based — to continue to surge for the next week or two,” JetBlue said.

With staffing shortages, determined travelers and a new variant of the coronavirus spreading quickly, can airlines keep planes on schedule during the holidays?

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United and Allegiant also cited Omicron-related staff shortages.

The Transportation Security Administration said it screened 2.02 million people around the U.S. on Wednesday.

Denver, Atlanta and Los Angeles were among the hardest hit for cancellations and delays Thursday afternoon, according to FlightAware, amid strong winds and precipitation.

No relief is expected in the near term.

Heavy snow is expected in much of the West on Thursday, according to the National Weather Service, and snow and an icy mix are “expected to paint a swath of hazardous travel conditions New Year’s Day from the front range of the Rockies to the Midwest and Great Lakes.” More than 650 flights already have been canceled for Friday and about 400 are already scratched for Saturday.

Airlines probably won’t see much effect on earnings, said Cowen Inc. analyst Helane Becker. Most canceled flights will be rebooked and carriers may use larger planes to consolidate service, she said.

“The airlines are doing their best to accommodate passengers,” Becker said by email. “But as it affects earnings, we don’t think it’s going to be significant to fourth-quarter results.”


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