JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Airlines canceled hundreds of flights for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as the omicron variant led to staff shortages.
Delta Air Lines and United Airlines said they canceled flights because of staff shortages tied to the omicron variant. Delta canceled 145 flights on Friday and 111 for Christmas Day, according to FlightAware. United called off 175 flights on Friday and 69 on Saturday.
Other factors, such as weather, are also causing cancellations.
At Jacksonville International Airport, travelers were focused on the departure and arrival boards on Friday. For many, it was smooth sailing. But others dealt with cancellations and delays, forcing them to make adjustments.
As of noon Friday, according to FlightAware, six flights had been canceled at JAX — four of them with JetBlue and the other two with United. Seven other flights had been delayed.
Justin Barker was heading to Boston for Christmas, but his trip with JetBlue was affected. His first flight was canceled without explanation, and another one was delayed for more than three hours.
“There’s nothing we can do at this time except wait,” Barker said. “Just taking it one minute at a time.”
Terrence Hammond was heading to Fort Lauderdale to jump on a cruise with his family for the holidays.
“I just want to get there safely and get back,” Hammond said. “I have some trepidation about going, but we have to keep living, so that’s what I’m going to do.”
A traveler named Jackie was on her way to Chicago. She’s a nurse and has advice to stay safe.
“Just don’t touch anything on your face without washing your hands first,” she said. “I am lucky that I am able to get N95 masks from work, so I’ll be wearing that on the plane. Mask over the nose always when you’re in public, and get vaccinated — that’s the No. 1 thing.”
With the cancellations and delays, travelers are urged to keep constant track of their flight’s status in case anything changes and plans have to be altered quickly.
Check those flights! As millions of people are traveling for the holidays, several plans are already changing. United and Delta Airlines canceling 200+ flights today due to COVID-19 cases with their staffs and bad weather in some places. @wjxt4 pic.twitter.com/QUSHsOd3ai— Aaron Farrar (@aaronfarrarNews) December 24, 2021
AAA forecasts more than 109 million people across the country will travel during the holidays. That’s compared to 81 million last year — close to a 34% jump. Airlines are expected to see a 184% increase from last year, with more than 6 million planning to fly.
One of the busiest travel times of the year comes as the Duval County Health Department on Thursday issued a warning, saying it expects another surge of COVID cases in the coming months.
“This is what is unique about omicron — the fact that it’s more contagious, it’s more transmissible,” said Dr. Chirag Patel, assistant chief medical officer at UF Health Jacksonville. “It’s replicating faster when someone catches it, meaning it’s easier to spread.”
Testing sites at Jacksonville community centers will be closed Thursday and Friday. They will all reopen Monday.
Omicron has not yet been officially detected in Duval County, but local doctors told News4JAX that they believe it’s already here and that they believe it’s just a matter of time before it’s confirmed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.