Why Are Airlines Canceling Flights and When Will Travel Improve?


Dec. 28 2021, Published 11:21 a.m. ET

There has been a flurry of flight cancelations globally over the last week. According to FlightAware, more than 1,200 flights in the U.S. got canceled on Dec. 27 and almost 800 flights got canceled in the country on Dec. 28 by 10 a.m. ET. It's always disappointing to find out that your flight is canceled, especially when it comes during the holiday season. Why are airlines canceling flights and when will things get better?

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While we see flight cancelations globally, the U.S. leads the charts and on Dec. 27, a third of the total flight cancelations globally were into or outside the country.

Why are airlines canceling flights?

Many travelers are wondering why are airline companies are canceling so many flights. There are three reasons behind the spurt in flight cancelations:

  • An increase in air traffic amid the holiday season
  • Labor shortage due to the rapid spread of the omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus
  • Weather-related incidents
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Air traffic has bounced back amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The airline traffic in the U.S. has been strong and the U.S. Transportation Security Administration screened 2.19 million passengers on Dec. 23. The traffic has bounced back sharply and on Dec. 22, the airline traffic was even higher than the same day in 2019.

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While the air traffic has bounced back, and on some days it even exceeded the pre-pandemic levels, airline companies are struggling to deploy workers to meet the soaring demand. While there has been a labor shortage situation in the U.S., the spread of the omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus has made things worse, especially for the airline industry.

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Airline employees have been sick due to the omicron variant.

There has been a spurt in daily coronavirus cases in the U.S. and the seven-day average is at the highest level since January. While the omicron variant is arguably far less lethal than the delta variant, the fast spread means that those who catch the virus go out of the labor force for the period they're sick or quarantined.

"The nationwide spike in Omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation," said a United Airline memo accessed by CNN.

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The weather is also leading to flight delays and cancelations.

Adverse weather conditions also added to the flight delays and cancelations. On Dec. 27, SkyWest attributed over 300 flight cancelations to weather conditions. The airline had the highest number of flight cancelations among all U.S. airlines on that day.

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John Laughter, Delta Air Lines’ chief of operations, summed up the situation and said that it's "a perfect storm that includes relentless weather systems coupled with the omicron variant surge.”

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When will travel and flights get better?

The airline traffic has dropped from the highs we see around Christmas. However, the daily new COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the U.S., which could put pressure on labor availability.

The omicron variant has delivered a severe blow to the airline industry, which was limping back to normalcy from the COVID-19 pandemic lows. In April 2020, Berkshire Hathaway chairman Warren Buffett sold off all of the four airline stocks that the conglomerate was holding. He said that the airline industry's long-term business outlook has changed. The continued uncertainty from the COVID-19 pandemic somewhat proves the "Oracle of Omaha" was right.


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