Christmas Eve Air Travel Falls Below 2019 Levels Amid Cancellations

by Leanne Stahulak

During what’s supposed to be the busiest time of years for airlines, new reports show that fewer people are flying this year than in 2019 due to numerous cancellations.

The demand for flights was certainly there, with millions of people passing through Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints. But several airlines canceled flights after employees called in sick because of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. It’s the most transmissible variant to date, and per the CDC, it accounted for more than 73% of all COVID cases since last Monday.

These staffing shortages have led to thousands of flights being canceled over Christmas weekend. The canceled flights account for dropped levels of air travel in 2021 compared to pre-pandemic times. At some points this year, air travel levels surpassed those of 2019, and the holiday season looked to be no different. But new data shows that flight cancellations tanked this year’s numbers.

According to CNN, TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein said on Twitter that 1.7 million passengers passed through TSA on Christmas Eve (Friday). This is more than double the number of people who flew on Christmas Eve in 2020.

But it’s 800,000 fewer people than flew on the same day in 2019. Pre-pandemic numbers on Christmas Eve hit 2.6 million, but the new variant limited airlines’ abilities to match those numbers this year.

According to FlightAware, a flight-tracking website, airlines canceled nearly 1,000 flights on Christmas Day alone within, going into, or going out of the United States. Today’s numbers look no better, with a growing 724 flights canceled on Sunday as of 11:30 am. EST. Monday and Tuesday also look bad with a combined 66 flights already canceled.

Global Flight Cancellations Nearly Surpass 7,000

Getting around during the holidays in the United States is stressful enough. Add in international travel, and the number of canceled flights shoots up.

FlightAware tracks domestic and international flights. Per the latest data, more than 3,800 flights were canceled worldwide on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Add in the three days after Christmas, and that number grows to nearly 7,000 canceled flights in a five-day span. And as time passes, that number keeps growing and growing as airlines struggle to staff planes.

More people likely tried to travel this year with vaccination rates increasing. Not to mention limited Christmas travel available last winter. But all the grand plans for family gatherings and Christmas vacations were squashed this year due to the thousands of flight cancellations.

Perhaps next year air travel levels will rise again and airlines won’t face such severe shortages. But it highly depends on the state of the pandemic and various COVID variants cropping up. In the meantime, if your flight gets canceled, check out these tips and tricks for finding a new flight.