Omicron’s Airline Catastrophe Creates Winter Travel Woes


Used with permission from Sreya Durvasula

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on December 31. In front of the Security Checkpoint, senior Sreya Durvasula waits patiently as the TSA official checks her passport. The line was indefinitely long, stretching far into the airport.

Shivani Murugapiran, Staff Writer

On January 9th, airlines canceled 1,335 flights across the country as holiday travel wound down. The rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus increased infections among airline staff and crew, resulting in critical shortages of human resources.

On top of COVID-19 woes, harsh winter storms and bad weather left many airports scrambling. Chicago O’Hare International Airport, in early January, posted the highest cancellation rates at 26%, while delaying 17% of its flights.

Since December 24th, airlines overall have canceled over 15,000 U.S. flights and delayed thousands more. South senior Sreya Durvasula recently vacationed in Hawaii during the holidays and faced a layover on her way home, due to both weather issues and the spread of the Omicron variant.

We had a layover in Seattle before getting to Atlanta, but after getting to the airport we found out that our flight in Seattle was cancelled. The next flight that we could take was the next day evening, so we had to get accommodations. The airports were pretty crowded and the flights seemed to be completely booked.

— Sreya Durvasula, Senior

Many airlines took preventative steps by canceling flights in advance. JetBlue Airways, in late December, canceled around 1,300 flights originally scheduled in the first half of January.

Airlines are just one industry scrambling to adapt to the realities of the ongoing pandemic.  On January 5th, Delta’s Chief Customer Experience Officer Allison Ausband released an official statement to Delta SkyMiles (TM) members officially apologizing for the cancellations, explaining the airline’s situation during the pandemic and winter weather, and introducing new tools to aid Delta customers.

According to Ausband’s statement, “[The tools] include the ability to quickly change or cancel a flight, find baggage information, select your seat or request assistance with accessible travel via or the Fly Delta app. And if you’re flying internationally, we’ve worked to remove the guesswork from health requirements with Delta FlyReadySM, offering the ability to upload and verify government forms, proof of vaccination and negative COVID-19 testing for many destinations.”

While recent events have dampened the upcoming revival of pre-pandemic travel, the Summer of 2022 is projected to be a huge rebound for the airline industry, its largest since the start of COVID-19. However, given the rapid spread of the Omicron variant and the uncertainty of the pandemic, many have called into question the likelihood of a post-pandemic period where international and work travel increase.

Until then, it is important that individuals stay vigilant when making travel plans and visiting airports. Continually check with your airline to ensure that your flight has not been canceled, and be prepared to acclimate to the situation at your nearest airport.