Travelers pass through Miami International Airport on December 28, 2021 in Miami, Florida.

Joe Raedle | Getty Images

Travel in 2021 ended on a stressful note for thousands of people thanks to omicron. The rapidly spreading variant of the coronavirus has increased infection rates around the world, including among airline workers.

U.S. airlines canceled more than 10,000 flights over the year-end holiday period as the variant sidelined pilots and flight attendants and bad weather hit hubs such than Seattle and Atlanta. Thousands of other flights have been delayed.

That’s a small percentage of overall schedules – around 5%, according to flight tracking site FlightAware – but it disrupted the plans of tens of thousands of travelers during what airline executives had predicted to be the last day. busiest period since the start of the pandemic. Since December 23, more than 15.6 million people have passed through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints at airports, almost double the number of a year ago.

Unlike Spirit, American, and Southwest’s collapses in the summer and fall, the recent wave of disruption is spread across multiple airlines, including Delta, United, JetBlue, Alaska, and SkyWest.

Here’s what you need to know:


If your airline cancels your flight and you choose not to take another flight, they owe you a refund under federal law. Airlines could offer a credit with the airline, but passengers can request a full refund. This is the case regardless of the reason for the cancellation: bad weather, personnel problems or others, according to the Ministry of Transport.

“You can always get your money back if they can’t accommodate you, but that doesn’t get you home,” said Brett Snyder, who runs a travel concierge service and the Eccentric thief travel site.

The DOT also says travelers should be reimbursed if their flight is significantly delayed, although it does not define what falls into this category.

“Whether you are entitled to a refund depends on many factors, including the length of the delay, the length of the flight and your particular situation,” he says on his website. “DOT determines on a case-by-case basis whether you are entitled to a refund for a long delay. “

Change of reservation

Airlines try to cancel flights long before passengers arrive at the airport so travelers can make alternative plans, preferably through self-service platforms on their apps or websites, and don’t not overwhelm the counters. JetBlue, for example, is cutting about 1,280 flights from its schedule until Jan. 13, before another expected increase in the number of omicron infections among staff.

“The worst type of cancellation, as we all know, is cancellation that happens at the airport,” JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes told CNBC on Thursday.

Waiting times on airline customer service lines during a time of disruption can sometimes last for hours, although some carriers, such as Delta, will remind you when it’s your turn. Airlines also offer chat services and often respond on Twitter.

Snyder recommends trying all available channels when there are backups.

Passenger cancellations

With the omicron continuing to spread, some travelers may choose to postpone their trip or may test positive and be unable to reach their destination if traveling overseas. Many countries have tightened travel restrictions since the omicron variant was detected in late November. The United States, for example, now requires all inbound travelers, including U.S. citizens, to test negative for Covid within one day of departure.

The State Department on Thursday warned U.S. citizens against international travel, as a positive test in another country could mean travelers must quarantine themselves abroad, at their own expense, until ‘they are negative.

“Foreign governments of any country can implement restrictions with little notice,” the State Department added.

Major US airlines such as Delta, United, and American have waived high change fees for standard and higher economy class tickets, both for international and domestic flights. Travelers are always responsible for any fare difference. Airlines have largely ended pandemic-era fee waivers for non-refundable basic economy class tickets, but travelers should check with their specific airline.