For the second day in a row on Thursday, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport earned a dubious distinction: Sea-Tac had more canceled flights than any other airport on the planet.
Thanks to another round of snow and continued pandemic-induced staffing problems, more of the same is likely Friday. By 7 p.m. on Thursday, airlines had already canceled 95 flights that had been slated for Friday.
“There is nothing we can say that will give travelers back lost time or canceled plans,” Port of Seattle spokesperson Kate Hudson said in a statement. “We understand it is aggravating, especially at a time when we’ve already seen so many plans affected now and in the last year.”
Airport officials had forecast that Thursday would be the second busiest day of the holiday rush at Sea-Tac, when they expected 136,000 travelers to pass through. Instead, airlines canceled 301 arrivals and departures at Sea-Tac, more than a quarter of all of Thursday’s scheduled flights and the highest number of any airport in the world, according to the website FlightAware.com.
Friday’s cancellations brought Sea-Tac’s total to more than 1,530 since Sunday, when heavy snow on top of ongoing staffing issues began snarling domestic air travel, according to the flight tracking site.
Randi Evans, a Seattle native now living near Oakland, California, has been stuck in Seattle with her husband and three children since Sunday, when their Alaska Air flight was canceled.
After hours of waiting and another cancellation, the couple managed to rebook a flight — for Thursday.
“It just seems like such a mess,” Evans said.
All over the country, airlines have faced staffing shortages due to coronavirus infections and quarantines.
COVID infections among flight attendants are rising across the country as the omicron variant spreads, said Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, in an emailed statement.
“Staffing remains tight as workers are hesitant to pick up voluntary overtime due to disruptive passengers, COVID concerns, and COVID-test positives during the busiest travel period of the year,” said Nelson, whose union represents 50,000 attendants. “We have negotiated holiday incentives to help with operational challenges but there’s only so far you can stretch people.”
Although staffing issues have struck the industry as a whole, the problems have been exacerbated at airports beset by heavy winter weather.
At Sea-Tac, crews are working hard to keep runways clear and other operations running smoothly, Hudson said. The airport, which usually handles about 950 flights a day this time of year, has just 10 de-icing stations that waiting planes can use when not at a gate.
The airport has prepared terminals to handle stranded passengers. Restaurants and retailers stocked up for high demand, Hudson said, and some shifted to 24-hour operations.
“We have handed out hundreds of blankets this week to guests who have had long stays in the terminal waiting for a postponed flight,” Hudson said.
Still, the main advice for travelers hasn’t changed. “If you do not need to travel, consider delaying,” Hudson said. “If you do need to travel, come prepared for crowds and the potential for change.”