New Year brings canceled flights for air travelers

For air travelers, the New Year is a place where the old can be left behind – with a lot of disappointment.

More than 2,400 U.S. flights and nearly 4,200 flights worldwide were canceled early Saturday on the East Coast, according to FlightAware Surveillance Service.

This is the highest single-day count since airlines began blaming staff shortages just before Christmas for increasing COVID-19 infections among employees. More than 12,000 U.S. flights have been canceled since December 24.

However, Saturday’s interruptions were not caused by the virus. 800 flights at O’Hare Airport and more than 250 flights at Midway Airport made Chicago the worst place in the country for passengers. Forecasts for nine inches of snow. Denver, Detroit and New Jersey’s Newark each had at least 100 canceled.

Southwest Airlines has major operations in Chicago midway and Denver, canceling more than 450 flights nationwide or 13% of its schedule by midnight. American, Delta, United and Jet Blue each scrubbed more than 100 planes.

SkyWest, a regional carrier operating under the names American Eagle, Delta Connection and United Express, landed more than 400 aircraft or 21% of its schedule.

Of the international carriers, China scrubbed more than 500 flights or a quarter of its total, and Air China canceled more than 200 flights, one-fifth of its schedule, according to FlightAware.

Airlines say they are taking steps to reduce cancellations. United pays pilots three times or more their usual salary for taking off in mid-January. Southwest and some other workers have raised premium wages.

When winter weather hit the Pacific Northwest earlier this week, Alaska Airlines urged customers to delay scheduled “non-essential” trips this weekend. The airline said it was not sure if passengers who had been stranded for at least three days could be re-booked as there were full flights during the New Year holidays.

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Passengers stuck to the roads instead of the skies also faced challenges. Traffic officials in the Midwest warned motorists that the combination of rain and snow could make roads slippery and reduce visibility, leading to dangerous driving conditions.

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