Airlines cancelled over 5,600 flights worldwide on Friday and Saturday, while thousands more were delayed, as the Omicron variant of Covid-19 disrupted Christmas Holiday travel, Belga news agency reports.
According to the FlightAware website, there were close to 2,500 cancellations on Saturday, as at 13.40 GMT, just over 850 of them linked to flights in, to or from the United States, while over 3,500 flights were delayed.
On Friday, there were about 2,400 cancellations and nearly 11,000 delays, according to the website, which tracks information on flights worldwide.
Cancellations already programmed for Sunday were close to the 800 mark, it added.
FlightAware explained that pilots, air hostesses and other staff members have had to be quarantined after being exposed to the Coronavirus, which forced companies such as Lufthansa, Delta and United Airlines to cancel flights.
United Airlines cancelled about 439 flights on Saturday and Sunday. This amounted to about 10% of those that had originally been planned.
The U.S. company said the spike in Omicron cases in the United States this week had had a “direct impact” on crews and operational management staff. It promised to find solutions for affected passengers.
Another major U.S. airline, Delta Air, cancelled 170 flights on Friday and 280 on Saturday, according to FlightAware. It, too, blamed Omicron, as well as adverse weather conditions, and stressed that its teams had exhausted all options and resources before deciding to scrap the flights.
Regional U.S. carrier Alaska Airlines disclosed that staff reported that they might have been exposed to the virus and had to self-quarantine, prompting the company to withdraw over 10 flights.
Chinese carriers accounted for the largest number of cancellations: China Eastern withdrew about 540 flights, representing over a quarter of its flight plan, while Air China cancelled 264, also close to a quarter of its planned departures.
The cancellations come at a time when many people had hoped to resume holiday travel after being grounded by the pandemic during Christmas 2020.
In the United States, over 109 million people had been scheduled to leave their immediate regions by plane, train or car between 23 December and 2 January, a 34% increase compared to last year, according to American Automobile Association (AAA) estimates.
Fortunately, the disruptions have not had any effect on the trips made by Santa Claus, which the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) has been tracking scrupulously for 63 years.
NORAD Commander for the Canada region, Major General Eric Kenny, told AFP at about 7.00 p.m. Brussels time on Friday that everything was going “very well,” Santa had distributed two billion gifts and was “now over Pakistan.”