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Planning to Fly? Expect Challenges, Travel Expert Warns

Dangerous weather in some regions and the omicron variant are forcing airlines to scramble

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Frustration is growing for some travelers across the country during this year’s busy holiday rush, as they deal with delays and cancelations. Dangerous weather in some regions and the omicron variant are forcing airlines to scramble.

Delta Airlines said employees were working “…around the clock to reroute and substitute aircraft and crews,” citing winter weather and omicron for the problems.

“Omicron is an equal opportunity offender,” said Willis Orlando of Scott’s Cheap Flights. “It’s kind of hitting folks across the board.”

In South Florida, American Airlines, which has a major hub at Miami International Airport, told NBC 6 their operation was running smoothly Wednesday.  That was a much-needed break after a chaotic holiday weekend involving a number of COVID-related sick calls that resulted in the airline pre-canceling some flights system-wide.

United Airlines told NBC 6 it had to cancel some flights this week because the nationwide spike in omicron cases "has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation.” 

The airline said it was “…notifying impacted customers in advance of them coming to the airport,” adding: “We’re sorry for the disruption and are working hard to rebook as many people as possible and get them on their way for the holidays.”

In a statement, JetBlue told NBC 6 on Wednesday afternoon it had already canceled 96 flights network-wide because of staffing challenges. 

The airline said they have put a fee waiver in place for all customers with travel through January who want to adjust their plans. You can read more about the fee waiver here.

JetBlue also said: “Like many businesses and organizations, we have seen a surge in the number of sick calls from Omicron. We entered the holiday season with the highest staffing levels we’ve had since the pandemic began and are using all resources available to cover our staffing needs. To give our customers as much notice as possible to make alternate plans and re-accommodate them on other flights, we are proactively reducing our schedule through January 13th … we sincerely apologize for the inconvenience that these schedule changes bring.”

“What we’re seeing right now, in terms of delays and cancelations for air travel, is kind of unprecedented,” Orlando said.

Orlando said if you are planning to travel over the coming days, expect to deal with challenges.

“People who are flying now should expect to be on the wrong side of those cancellations or delays,” he said. “The best thing you can do is be vigilant and check your flight status online, ahead of time.”

If your flight is canceled, Orlando said under federal law, you qualify for a refund, even if you booked a non-refundable ticket.

“If you booked a base fare and you added extra stuff, every single service you paid for and you do not receive, you are entitled a full refund for,” he said.

If your flight is “significantly delayed," you may be entitled to a refund, including a refund for all optional fees associated with the purchase of your ticket in some situations, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s website. 

However, the DOT does not define what is considered a significant delay.  You can read more about your rights under federal law, if your flight is canceled or delayed, here.

Willis said refund policies for flight delays vary by airline.

“So take a look at your own airline’s policy,” he said. “Take a look at what happened to your flight and decide whether or not this is something you have in your back pocket.”

If you booked a non-refundable ticket and you don’t want to travel right now, Orlando said you should avoid canceling your ticket. He said a better approach would be to wait until the last minute, since the airline may make a change to your flight that could make you eligible for a refund.

If your flight was canceled and you’re having a tough time getting your money back, you can file a complaint with the Department of Transportation.  Click here to see the complaint form.

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