For air travelers, the new year began where the old one left off – much to the dismay.
As of Saturday morning, more than 2,400 US flights on the East Coast and about 4,200 flights around the world had been canceled, according to tracking service FlightAware.
This is the highest single-day toll ever since just before Christmas, when airlines began blaming staff shortages on rising COVID-19 infections among employees. More than 12,000 US flights have been canceled since December 24.
However, Saturday’s disruptions were not solely due to the virus. The chilly weather made Chicago the worst place in the country for travelers, with 800 flights at O’Hare Airport and over 250 at Midway Airport. Nine inches of snow forecast. Denver, Detroit and Newark, New Jersey, were each hit with at least 100 cancellations.
Southwest Airlines, which has major operations in Chicago Midway and Denver, canceled more than 450 flights nationwide, or 13% of its schedule, as of midday. American, Delta, United and JetBlue each scrubbed more than 100 flights.
SkyWest, a regional carrier that operates flights under the names American Eagle, Delta Connection and United Express, halted more than 400 flights, or 21% of its schedule.
According to FlightAware, among international carriers, China Eastern canceled more than 500 flights, or about one-quarter of its total, and Air China canceled more than 200 flights, a fifth of its schedule.
Airlines say they are taking steps to reduce cancellations. United is offering pilots three or more times their normal pay to take open flights by mid-January. Southwest and others have also raised premium pay for some workers.
When winter arrived in the Pacific Northwest earlier this week, Alaska Airlines urged customers to delay planning any “non-essential” travel this weekend. With flights full on New Year’s break, the airline said it was not sure it could rebook passengers stranded for at least three days.
Passengers stranded on the roads instead of the skies also faced challenges. Transportation officials in the Midwest warned motorists that the mix of rain and snow could make roads slippery and reduce visibility, creating dangerous driving conditions.