2,400 cancellations and counting: Airlines’ rough run continues with an especially bad Friday

Jan 7, 2022

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U.S. airlines just can’t catch a break from a terrible two weeks of operational disruptions caused by the COVID-19 omicron variant and severe weather.

By 12:05 p.m. ET on Friday, airlines had canceled more than 2,400 flights in the U.S. — already more than had been canceled all day on Thursday. Another 630 had already been preemptively canceled for Saturday.

Friday’s cancellations came as a winter storm moved through the Northeast, where several major airports say high cancellation tallies.  According to FlightAware, 195 departures had already been canceled at LaGuardia Airport (LGA), 181 at Boston Logan (BOS),  132 at Newark (EWR) and 130 at John F. Kennedy (JFK).

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These cancellations fell in line with reported snowfall totals. According to the National Weather Service, 8.4 inches of snow had fallen at LaGuardia, 7.1 inches had fallen at Boston Logan, 5.5 inches had fallen at Kennedy and 5 inches had fallen at Newark.

In addition, airports nationwide continue to recover from storms that disrupted flights earlier this week. At Denver International Airport (DEN), 127 flights had been canceled Friday. Nashville (BNA) saw 60 flights canceled so far.

Southwest Airlines led the pack on Friday with 525 flights canceled, which is 17% of its schedule.

Owing to the regional nature of Friday’s weather disruptions, Republic Airways canceled 326 flights, or 32% of its schedule. Republic operates flights for United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines primarily in the eastern portion of the country. United, with its large Newark hub, canceled 206 of its flights, or 10% of its schedule. Regional giant SkyWest Airlines, which flies for American, United, Delta and Alaska Airlines, canceled 183 flights — 8% of its schedule. American Airlines canceled 182 flights, or 6% of its schedule.

Delta, which has seen its operations severely hampered over the holidays, was doing better than some of its peers, but the 108 flights — or 4% of its schedule — it canceled was nothing to write home about.

More: Snapshot: 1 in 13 flights were canceled during the holidays. How US airlines fared

While severe flight disruptions during winter weather is hardly a new phenomenon, contending with it on top of a highly transmissible COVID variant is. With airlines facing significant numbers of crews and other staff sidelined due to omicron infections, staff reserves are already depleted, making it more difficult to recover from weather-caused disruptions. With fewer pilots and flight attendants available to work, more flights will be canceled, instead of airlines being able to assign reserve crews to operate the flights.

Friday’s weather disruptions are particularly unwelcome as airlines use January, typically a month of lower demand, to try and reset the operational picture. On Thursday, Alaska Airlines said that it was cutting 10% of its schedule through the end of January.

“This will give us the flexibility and capacity needed to reset while continued flexible travel policies enable guests to adjust their plans accordingly,” the Seattle-based carrier said in a statement.

A United spokesperson told TPG on Thursday that the carrier was also proactively canceling flights, though declined to say how many.

“We expect the surge in Omicron cases to continue to have an impact on our operation, so we’re proactively adjusting our near-term schedules to better ensure that we have the staff and resources to take care of our customers,” the Chicago-based carrier said.

Featured photo by David Ryder/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

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