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Scrapped flights, resurgent Covid deliver Christmas gut punch

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Holiday travel headaches and safety worries swelled Sunday with thousands of flights cancelled, events scrapped and new Omicron cases soaring, as people wrap up Christmas celebrations bruised by a resurgent Covid-19 pandemic.

Some 8,300 flights have been grounded and tens of thousands more delayed from Friday through Sunday — one of the busiest travel periods of the year — with multiple airlines acknowledging that Omicron spikes have prompted staffing shortages.

Effects have rippled worldwide and the hurt was expected to bleed into the work week, with more than 1,100 flights already facing cancellations Monday and almost 300 more on Tuesday, according to flight tracker FlightAware.

However, air travel remained the major global headache.

Aircrew and ground staff have fallen sick or gone into quarantine after exposure to Covid, multiple airlines said.

Lufthansa, Delta, United Airlines, British Airways, Alaska Airlines and several others have been forced to cancel flights.

JetBlue said it entered the holiday season with “the highest staffing levels we’ve had since the pandemic began.”

But “despite our best efforts, we’ve had to cancel a number of flights, and additional flight cancellations and other delays remain a possibility as we see more Omicron community spread,” the airline said in a statement.

– Frustrations –

Chinese carriers, notably China Eastern and Air China, scrubbed several thousand flights over the long weekend, including many going in and out of Xi’an Xianyang International airport, according to tracker data.

Flightaware.com reports nearly 2,900 flights were cancelled worldwide on Saturday, and 3,100 and counting on Sunday, with more than 1,300 of those taking off or landing at US airports. More than 14,000 Sunday flights have been delayed.

The cancellations added to the frustration for many people eager to reunite with their families over the holidays after last year’s Christmas was severely curtailed.

The American Automobile Association estimated more than 109 million Americans would travel by plane, train or automobile between December 23 and January 2, a 34 percent increase over the last year.

But most of those plans were made before the detection of Omicron, which has become the dominant strain in the United States, overwhelming hospitals and healthcare workers.

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