Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on New Year’s Eve dropped from No. 1 to No. 2 on a list of the planet’s airports, but for a positive reason: after two days at the top, the airport fell behind Denver International Airport in most flight cancellations and delays.
That doesn’t mean everything went smoothly — 148 flights scheduled to depart or arrive at Sea-Tac were canceled as of 5 p.m. on the final day of 2021, and an additional 179 were delayed, according to FlightAware.com, which tracks flights.
The canceled flights accounted for about 15% of all scheduled arrivals and departures at Sea-Tac. The day prior, airlines canceled 301 flights, more than a quarter of all the day’s scheduled flights.
Airlines said they were working to get planes and crews back into place after snowstorms in the Seattle area this week — and staffing issues caused by rising COVID-19 cases among employees — forced hundreds of cancellations and delays during some of the year’s busiest travel days. More than 2 million people across the U.S. flew on both Wednesday and Thursday, according to TSA checkpoint data, which was more than double the number of travelers in 2020 and almost reaching pre-pandemic levels.
Alaska Airlines had the highest number of affected flights, having canceled 86 flights scheduled for Friday as of 5 p.m. — about 1 in 5 of all the airline’s Sea-Tac flights — and 16 flights on Saturday to and from Seattle.
“We sincerely apologize for the considerable inconvenience and understandable frustration that our guests have experienced this week,” the Seattle-headquartered airline said in a statement. “We’re using all our resources to get our guests to their destination as soon as possible, while operating safely.”
Though freezing temperatures were forecast overnight, surfaces like runways and taxiways at Sea-Tac were in good shape on Friday, Port of Seattle spokeswoman Kathy Roeder said. Customer service workers handed out water and more than 1,000 blankets to stranded passengers in the terminals until after midnight on Thursday.
Meanwhile, at other Washington airports, five flights were canceled or delayed at Paine Field and 29 were canceled or delayed in Spokane as of 5 p.m. At Portland International Airport, 9 flights were canceled and 62 flights were delayed, according to FlightAware.com.
Adam Tang, who traveled to Oregon to visit family for Christmas, was hoping to begin his return journey to North Dakota on Thursday, but his flight from Portland to Seattle was canceled. He tried to reschedule with Alaska Airlines and submitted a request for a call back from customer service, which he received about 20 hours later, “but that was expected to have a long delay for a return call,” he said.
On Friday, his flight from Portland to Seattle was delayed an hour, but he still had enough time at Sea-Tac, which he described as calm but busy, to make his flight to Billings, Montana. That flight, too, was delayed, by 43 minutes.
“My experience has been relatively stress-free and pleasant, all things considered,” he said.
Both Alaska and Delta airlines urged travelers scheduled to fly this week to consider postponing their plans until next week. In the Seattle area, snow and rain are forecast beginning Saturday night and may continue through the next two days. Alaska is allowing travelers to change their tickets online, as long as the flight date is before Feb. 16, 2022. Delta will waive the fare difference for any flights affected between Dec. 25 and Dec. 3, 2022, that are rebooked on or before Jan. 6.