Airlines Cancel Hundreds of Flights Due to Staff Outbreaks, Stranding Holiday Travelers

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Citing staff shortages tied to COVID-19 infections among crew members, multiple airlines canceled hundreds of flights on Christmas Eve, leaving tens of thousands of passengers scrambling for alternative plans.

Those holiday travelers were anticipating boarding their Christmas Eve flight to make it in time to see loved ones for the holiday, but airline workers like others across the country are dealing with the impact of the omicron variant.

Two U.S.-based airlines -- Delta and United -- reported staff shortages connected to the COVID-19 omicron variant. United canceled 170 flights and Delta canceled 133, according to Flightware.

"The nationwide spike in Omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation," United said in a statement. "As a result, we’ve unfortunately had to cancel some flights and are notifying impacted customers in advance of them coming to the airport."

Travel experts say passengers should anticipate more delays and cancellations on Christmas and even after the holiday due to the issue. They also say travelers should be flexible because their original plans may be changed.

Alaska Airlines says it canceled 17 flights on Thursday and nine on Friday and expects more cancellations on Christmas Day.

In a statement, Alaska said, in part, "Going into December, we increased the number of employees for reserve positions to prepare for a very busy travel period; however, some of them have reported that they may have been exposed to the virus. Those employees, working in various locations, are following our protocols and quarantining at home."

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