Flight cancellations continue as COVID-19, severe weather plague airlines

MORRISVILLE, N.C. (WTVD) -- A rebound in air travel during the holiday season is facing strong headwinds from two obstacles, leading to a sharp rise in cancellations: COVID-19 cases and severe weather.

Since Christmas Eve, more than 5,000 flights have been cancelled nationally, as airlines face crew shortages because of an uptick in COVID-19 cases, believed to be spurred by the more transmissible Omicron variant.

On Wednesday, FlightAware reported 16 flights -- seven departures and nine arrivals -- were canceled at RDU, and a number of other flights were delayed.

"I can't pull an airplane out of the sky quite literally to get you where you're going. But I can prepare you. I can coach you through how to get the best service, what are the odds the airline is going to comp a hotel, comp a meal," said Crystal Seaton, the owner of Road to Relaxation Travel.

"We've had flights personally changed in our family a ton of times this year. It's best honestly to work directly with the airline, and I find if you can take advantage of the chat feature in the app of an airline. Even if you are engaged beginning of the chat, and you finally get an agent hours and hours later, they almost always can resolve your problem," added Jody Mahoney, a travel advisor with Go Now Travel Company.

Seaton, who also serves as the Raleigh chapter president of the American Society of Travel Advisors, also shared tips in the event of a long delay or truncated layover.

"Picking seats at the front of the plane if there's going to be a worry of a shorter layover. Picking a direct flight, picking flights that have a better track record of flying on time and flying consistently so that we try to avoid those issues. When it comes to those cancellations, we can sit on hold for our clients. We can make the phone calls," said Seaton, who added she encourages people to pack food, noting staff shortages also impact vendors at airports.

For international travelers, staying on top of changing restrictions -- sometimes quickly implemented -- is important.

"I do believe that people are realizing now that it is so important to have that partner when you travel, because you do need to understand all of the fine print right now. You do need to understand why it's important to have travel insurance based on where you're going," said Mahoney.

"I'm always going to recommend travel insurance, especially for my international travelers. One of the big things I have my international travelers to look for is if they even have health insurance coverage in another country, because a lot of times your regular health insurance isn't going to cover you out of the country," Seaton noted.

Though travel has not yet reached pre-pandemic levels, TSA is reporting a big jump this year compared to 2020.

"There is definitely an uptick in interest for sure. There is some hesitation, I would say it completely ebbs and flows with the variants we see. 2020, I'd say I'm almost 100% busier in a positive way than I was last year at this time," Mahoney said.

Both Mahoney and Seaton are preaching patience, noting there can be challenges in travel during this period. Still, they note that most of their clients are keeping their bookings for 2022.
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