‘Current hold time is 2 hours and 43 minutes’: Christmas flight cancellations send travelers scrambling

Ron Hernandez’ daughter called him early Friday morning in a panic. Delta Air Lines canceled her Christmas Day flight from Seoul to New Orleans via Atlanta.

The 26-year-old English teacher hasn’t been home since 2019 due to the pandemic, and the pricey Delta business class ticket was her Christmas present.

Hernandez immediately called Delta to figure out a new flight. Despite his top level frequent flier status, which comes with a dedicated phone line, the medical device consultant was on hold for about 30 minutes before rebooking a flight that still gets her home on Christmas.

“Had my daughter called, she would still be on the phone just waiting to get through,” he said.

Travelers with last-minute holiday flights this year are scrambling to find new flights as two major U.S. Airlines, Delta and United, have canceled hundreds of Christmas Eve and Christmas flights. They cite crew shortages due to sick calls from the fast spreading omicron variant and weather in pockets of the country.

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United canceled 196 Christmas Eve flights, or 10% of scheduled flights, Delta, 171, or 8% as of 9:30 p.M. ET, according to flight tracker FlightAware. Christmas Day cancellations for the two airlines stood a 243 for Delta and 168 for United. Christmas Day is one of the lightest travel days of the holiday travel rush. JetBlue is also having issues, with 150 Christmas Eve and Christmas day flights canceled, or 7% of its scheduled flights.

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Delta said late Friday morning that it expects the cancellations to continue into Sunday, a busy travel day ahead of the new work week, with an additional 150 cancellations expected that day.

“We apologize to our customers for the delay in their holiday travel plans,” Delta spokeswoman Kate Modolo said in a statement. “Delta people are working hard to get them to where they need to be as quickly and as safely as possible on the next available flight.”.

The airline, which just a week ago bragged to investors about its strong operational performance this year and staffing levels amid flight woes at other airlines this year, said travelers should check the airline’s website and mobile app for the latest information and rebooking assistance.

Callers to Delta’s general customer service line were quoted a wait of two hours and 43 minutes late Friday morning. United was quoting a 25- to 30-minute wait. A recording on United’s reservations line said “significant weather” has impacted its call center staffing and urged travelers without flights in the next 72 hours to call back later.

Airlines have struggled with long wait times as travel surged this year.

The holiday flight cancellations have travelers with upcoming flights on edge and checking their flight status repeatedly.

Is my United flight canceled?

Ohio accountant Jason Chadwell is due to fly United from Cleveland to Las Vegas on Christmas. He heard about the flight cancellations early Friday and has been checking United’s website and app every couple hours. So far, his evening flight shows on schedule.

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Chadwell and his wife have tickets to two shows, a Christmas gift from their children, and dinner reservations at restaurants run by celebrity chefs from their favorite cooking shows. It is his wife’s first trip to Las Vegas.

“It stresses me out because you’ve got plans, you’ve got reservations out there,” he said.

He is eyeing a backup flight to Las Vegas on Spirit Airlines but doesn’t want to book the tickets and be on the hook for them if his United flight isn’t canceled.

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