Travel experts: Flight delays, cancellations could continue for weeks

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SALT LAKE CITY — For many Utah travelers, getting home from holiday trips is taking longer than planned. Airlines across the country continue to face thousands of delays and cancellations. Travel experts say we can expect those cancellations to continue for at least a couple of weeks, with a few reasons at play as to why flights can't take off.

Delays began around Christmas, with airlines blaming sick callouts due to the omicron variant of COVID-19, as well as weather.

On Monday, the Farfan family reached the final stretch of their trip home to Idaho. They flew into Salt Lake City from Phoenix and explained that everything went smoothly for them. But their other 15 family members leaving Phoenix on five different flights had a completely different experience.

As the families each got ready to fly out New Year's Eve after a wedding, Joe Farfan said people started to get texts about flights being canceled.

"A lot of them weren't rescheduled," he said. "And so, a lot of panic kind of set in."

That panic turned into desperation and frustration when Joe and his wife, Andrea, said they sat on the phone on hold with Delta for eight and a half hours. And this was overnight even.

"To try to get the refund for his dad and his brother. It was horrible. We fell asleep," Andrea recounted with a laugh. "Like, it's three in the morning, and you're trying to stay awake so you can get the refund."

Joe and Andrea Farfan flew into Salt Lake City from Phoenix Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, and explained that everything went smoothly. But their other 15 family members had a completely different experience.
Joe and Andrea Farfan flew into Salt Lake City from Phoenix Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, and explained that everything went smoothly. But their other 15 family members had a completely different experience. (Photo: Lauren Steinbrecher, KSL-TV)

Edward Russell, airlines reporter for Skift and Airline Weekly, indicated that these cancellations probably won't disappear just because the rush of holiday travel has subsided.

"Most of the cancellations are due to omicron and that has led to as much as 15% of U.S. airports seeing flights canceled," he said.

That 15%, he said, was the peak over the holidays. It has since dropped to a more reasonable 5% to 6%. But even that, Russell explained, is well over the norm of a less than 1% rate of cancellations on a normal travel day.

"Airlines do expect cancellations to continue, especially as omicron continues to surge," he said.

The expectation, Russell added, is that after omicron cases peak — perhaps in the middle of January — those delays and cancellations could get better.

For anyone who finds their flight is suddenly a no-go, don't expect to be able to just hop on the next plane out of the airport either.

"That next flight is most likely 100% full, so it can turn into a game of standby gate to gate," Russell said.


That's what happened to Joe and Andrea's family. Joe said his nephew went to the airport, hoping to book another flight, only to find they were full. That's why many of his family members decided last second not to fly at all.

"Everybody decided that it was probably better just to rent a big SUV, and they decided to drive home," he said.

Those family members ended up taking a road trip, with sight-seeing stops along the route from Phoenix to Salt Lake City.

The very last bunch, he and Andrea said, were expected to fly back to Chicago Monday night and hoped to land at 4 a.m. Tuesday.

With the potential for cancellations, Russell recommended people buy travel insurance, so they're prepared in case they need to purchase an extra night at a hotel or make other arrangements.

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Lauren Steinbrecher
Lauren Steinbrecher is an Emmy award-winning reporter and multimedia journalist who joined KSL in December 2021.


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