More than 2,000 flights canceled globally as travel disruption continues amid Omicron surge

Of the nearly 2,200 canceled flights, more than 700 were within, into or out of the United States, according to FlightAware. More than 3,000 flights are delayed.

Globally, airlines canceled more than 6,000 flights on Christmas Eve, Christmas and the day after Christmas. In the United States, more than 1,200 flights were canceled and more than 5,000 were delayed on Sunday alone as staff and crew call out sick.

The cancellations come at the busiest time of year for air travel. The US Transportation Security Administration said it screened millions of people each day over the holiday weekend, peaking at 2.19 million travelers on Thursday, December 23. On Wednesday, more people passed through TSA checkpoints than on the same day in 2019.

Saturday air travel was a bit slower because of the flight cancellations: More than 1.53 million people passed through security checkpoints Saturday.

United Airlines (UAL) said last week it had to cancel hundreds of flights because it lacked enough crew members to safely fly all of its scheduled routes.

“The nationwide spike in Omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation,” said a United memo obtained by CNN.

Delta (DAL) said it was working to get all stranded travelers home as quickly as possible.

“We apologize to our customers for the delay in their holiday travel plans,” Delta 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.”

German airline Lufthansa said it will cancel 10% of its winter flight schedule as the pandemic continues to hit the aviation industry.

In an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung last week, Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said that due to “a sharp drop in bookings” the airline will have to cancel 33,000 flights from mid-January to February 2022 or 10% of the group’s winter flight schedule.

Spohr’s comments were confirmed to CNN by the Lufthansa press office.

— CNN’s Pete Muntean contributed to this report

Airlines avoid Afghan airspace as Kabul airport closes to commercial flights

On Monday, United Airlines (UAL), Virgin Atlantic, Emirates and Flydubai all announced changes to flights to or over Afghanistan, saying that they would monitor the situation as chaotic scenes unfolded at the main airport in Kabul, the nation’s capital.

“Due to the dynamic nature of the situation, we have begun routing affected flights around Afghanistan airspace,” a United Airlines spokesperson said in a statement early Monday morning local time, adding that it would continue to work closely with authorities to “determine how we continue service to markets impacted.”

The changes affect United flights to India.

Virgin Atlantic also said that it would reroute its upcoming services to India and Pakistan after “the latest situation reports in Afghanistan.” Starting Monday, the carrier’s flights to the cities of Islamabad, Lahore, Mumbai and New Delhi, which usually fly over Afghanistan, will be diverted to avoid the country’s airspace.

“The health, safety and security of our customers and people always comes first,” a Virgin Atlantic spokesperson said in a statement.

Lufthansa (DLAKY), the German airline, also said that it was “rerouting flights to avoid Afghan airspace until further notice.”

“As a result, the flight time to India and other destinations will be extended by up to one hour,” a spokesperson told CNN Business.

Cut off

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country Sunday, hours before Taliban fighters took control of the presidential palace in Kabul.
A growing number of countries are now working to evacuate their citizens from Afghanistan, including the United States, South Korea and New Zealand.
On Monday, the Afghanistan Civil Aviation Authority announced that commercial flights had been canceled out of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. The civilian side of the airport is closed, according to a notice to airmen. Evacuation flights organized by foreign governments were still taking off.

Several carriers had already announced plans to cancel services. Both Emirates and Flydubai — a government-owned budget carrier — said that services to and from Kabul had been suspended.

There were scenes of pandemonium early Monday at the airport, where hundreds of people flooded the tarmac and large crowds were seen attempting to board aircraft.

Air India was one of the few remaining airlines still running a regular service to and from Kabul prior to the announcement of the suspension of all commercial flights.

Hours earlier, the carrier had said that it was trying to operate its scheduled flights for Afghanistan, “situation permitting.” But an Air India flight scheduled to depart to Kabul at 12:30 p.m. local time, or 3 am E.T. on Monday, was canceled just shortly before takeoff.

The plane was due to leave from New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport and pick up passengers in Kabul before returning to India, an airline spokesperson told CNN Business.

US airlines were already operating under new restrictions imposed by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in July, which prohibited them from operating at certain altitudes in Afghanistan, “with the exception of operations into and out of Hamid Karzai International Airport.”

— CNN’s Manveena Suri, Angus Watson and Jonny Hallam contributed to this report.