Omicron grounds thousands of global flights, scuttles holiday plans

December 27, 2021
Omicron grounds thousands of global flights, scuttles holiday plans

More than 8,000 flights were cancelled worldwide between Christmas Eve and Boxing Day, as COVID-19 drove down the number of available crews, upending the holiday plans of thousands of travellers.

Disruptions continued into Monday, statistics on tracking site showed, while Omicron cases surged in most Canadian provinces.

By midday Monday, more than 2,585 commercial flights were cancelled and 8,194 delayed around the world, with more than half of them at U.S. airports. So far, 31 arrivals and/or departures at Pearson International Airport in Toronto were cancelled, according to 

‘COVID-related sick calls’

Some airlines in the United States issued statements pointing to staffing levels as a reason for the changes.

Delta Airlines said: “Winter weather as well as the Omicron variant continue to hamper Delta’s operation Monday,” adding that at least 200 of 4,166 scheduled flights would be cancelled.

Saturday, United said in a statement to several news outlets: “The nationwide spike in Omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation.” 

And American Airlines’ statement on Saturday that said the carrier had to cancel flights due to “COVID-related sick calls.” 

The coronavirus was not the only cause of flight delays, as winter storms in some areas were also to blame.

Southwest Airlines said it had cancelled about 50 of the 3,600 flights scheduled Monday because of weather-related problems.

WATCH | Thousands of flights cancelled as Omicron takes off: 

More than 8,000 flights cancelled over Christmas weekend as cases surge

As COVID-19 cases rise, people looking to travel during Christmas are hit by thousands of flight cancellations and delays globally. 3:10

Stopping the spread

Last Wednesday, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos asked Canadians with plans to travel abroad to cancel their trips in an effort to blunt the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

To prevent travel-related infections at a time of mounting case counts, the federal government changed its official guidance and advised Canadians to avoid all non-essential travel outside the country.

“To those who were planning to travel, I say very clearly — now is not the time to travel. The rapid spread of the Omicron variant on a global scale makes us fear the worst,” Duclos said.

Travelers use their baggage for seats near the Southwest Airlines baggage carousels in Denver International Airport on Boxing Day, 2021. (David Zalubowski/The Associated Press)

In 2020, as Canada locked down and the border shut to international travellers, the tourism sector laid off 43 per cent of its workforce — about 900,000 jobs, according to Destination Canada, the former Canadian Tourism Commission.

But this year, the Christmas holidays, typically a peak time for travel, coincided with the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

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