The recent surge in COVID-19 cases due to the omicron variant has wreaked havoc on Christmas Eve, one of the busiest travel days of the year. On Friday, a number of major airlines reported flight delays or cancellations in part due to pandemic-related staffing shortages.
According to Flight Aware, which monitors airlines and airports, 1,819 flights “within, into or out of the United States” were delayed and 604 flights were canceled as of 11:35 a.m. PT.
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Friday’s travel issues build on troubles experienced a day earlier, when Flight Aware reported 5,679 delayed and 281 canceled flights in the US.
United, Delta and JetBlue are the hardest hit US airlines on Friday. New Jersey’s Newark Liberty, Los Angeles International, Chicago’s O’Hare and Fort Lauderdale International in Florida are among the most impacted airports in the US.
Separately, the White House reportedly will lift a ban on travel from eight countries in southern Africa, where the omicron variant was originally detected. The restrictions, which were put in place last month, covered most non-U.S. citizens who had recently been in Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa or Zimbabwe. The restrictions will be lifted on Dec. 31.
United confirmed that its flight issues on Friday were related to the omicron variant.
“The nationwide spike in omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation,” the carrier 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.”
In a blog post, Delta attributed delays to both omicron and winter.
“As winter weather impacts the northwest and northeast U.S. [and] the omicron variant continues to surge, Delta teams exhausted all options and resources before canceling around 158 flights in Friday’s nearly 3,100-flight schedule,” Delta said. “Delta people are working together around the clock to reroute and substitute aircraft and crews to get customers where they need to be as quickly and as safely as possible.”
Delta said it expects an increase in cancellations to continue through the weekend.
JetBlue didn’t immediately respond to a CNET request for comment.
CNET’s Andrew Morse contributed to this report.