‘I’m going to lose my mind’: 2021 has been a year of air rage, canceled flights, overworked airline staff and omicron – and it’s not over yet

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It’s been another tumultuous year for air travel – and New Years Eve is the final act.

Thousands of flights were canceled over Christmas and New Years weekends, as the COVID-19 omicron variant continued to spread rapidly, putting pressure on airport and airline staff, as storms stormed. snowfall in parts of the United States further compounded the predicament.

Passengers and the crew expressed their frustration online. A woman wrote on Twitter TWTR,
-1.73%
of the peak holiday season: “Probably none of you cares or follows me for that stuff, but damn, being a flight attendant on vacation isn’t fun.” I swear if I’m canceled or rerouted one more time I’m going to lose my mind.

Another passenger lamented about her canceled flight: “I tried to change the reservation, but their website was down. I called. I spent an hour on the phone not to speak with anyone anymore. Called again. Another hour and a half of waiting. These sentiments were expressed online throughout the holiday season.

So far 2,647 flights around the world have been canceled on New Years Eve and 3,147 on Thursday, while 1,263 flights to or from the United States have been canceled on New Years Eve and 1,439 on Thursday. , according to FlightAware, which tracks delays and cancellations in real time. These numbers are expected to rise on Friday.

Among the American airlines, Delta Air Lines DAL,
+ 0.12%
had canceled 95 flights on New Years Day and 163 on Thursday, while United Airlines UAL,
-0.17%
had canceled 208 flights on New Years Eve and 223 on Thursday. Airlines said they were working hard to reroute flights and replace planes and crews.

Many passengers also fear they will test positive while on vacation, which would delay their return home. Most airlines have made it easy to cancel and refund online or through their app, and many offer free flights. Some airlines offer SMS in their apps.

Adit Damodaran, an economist with the Hopper travel app, told MarketWatch that round-trip air fares are 9% and 13% lower than prices in 2019, showing the demand for air travel to be declining as a result. that more “breakthrough” coronavirus cases are being reported among those vaccinated. .

Increase in air rage incidents

There are reasons passengers are nervous. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 62% of the U.S. population is currently fully vaccinated, and only 33% have received the booster. COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to reduce the risk of hospitalization and death.

By the end of 2021, daily hospitalizations topped 80,000 amid the spread of the highly transmissible variant of omicron. COVID-19 has killed 820,355 Americans. There is a daily average of 344,543 new cases in the United States, up 181% over two weeks, according to the New York Times tracker.

The number of air rage incidents has also increased over the past year, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, as nervous and angry passengers argued over social distancing, wore or did not wear masks and, in some cases, appeared have been under the influence of alcohol during their flight.

According to FAA data released in late November, 5,300 such incidents have been reported this year, up from just hundreds a year before the pandemic. In a memo, Attorney General Merrick Garland ordered U.S. prosecutors to take a tougher line and pursue such cases. It is against federal law to threaten airline personnel.

“Passengers who assault, intimidate or threaten violence against flight crews and flight attendants do more than harm these employees; they prevent the performance of critical tasks that help keep air travel safe, ”Garland said in a statement released last month.

“The Department of Justice is committed to using its resources to do its part to prevent violence, intimidation, threats of violence and other criminal behavior that endangers the safety of passengers, flight crew and flight attendants on commercial planes, ”he added. Such acts, he said, endanger everyone on board.

Vaccinated travelers are more likely to report feeling concerned about travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent survey by polling company Morning Consult. Forty-three percent of people said they cut back on trips due to health concerns, while 41% did so out of fear of how other travelers would act.

“Concern over the irresponsible actions of others has prompted many would-be travelers to stay at home or seek other means of transportation, but they largely stop blaming the airlines for such incidents,” the company said in a blog post. Fifty-nine percent blame other travelers, while only 22% blame the airline or staff.

“Sit down, Karen! “

One of the latest incidents involved a woman who once played a minor role on the “Baywatch” TV show. Coming back from the toilet, she was filmed standing over a seated passenger, telling him to put on his mask. “Hide yourself! ” She screamed. “Sit down, Karen! The man yelled back.

Neither the woman, who is now referred to as “Delta Karen”, nor the man wore face masks during the shouting match. According to the footage, she then appeared to hit the man in the head. “You are going to jail! He retaliated. The crew members restrained the woman and pulled her down the aisle.

When the Delta flight from Tampa to Atlanta finally landed on Thursday, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents arrested her. “Such situations are rare for the vast majority of our customers and Delta has zero tolerance for unruly behavior at our airports and on our aircraft,” the airline said.

A more complicated question is passenger tolerance in 2021. In an effort to ease pressure on airline staff, U.S. health officials this week reduced isolation times for those who test positive for COVID-19 but show no symptoms for 10 to five days, and reduced the time close contacts need to self-quarantine. .

On December 21, Delta Air Lines general manager Ed Bastian, medical adviser Carlos del Rio and health director Henry Ting wrote to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Rochelle Walensky, imploring her to reconsider the isolation times recommended by the agency.

“This guidance was developed in 2020 when the pandemic was in a different phase without effective vaccines and treatments. At Delta, over 90% of our workforce is fully immunized and these rates are increasing daily, ”they wrote. They compared the plight of staff to that of healthcare workers, police, firefighters and public transport workers.

This will allow employees who test positive to return to work earlier with a negative COVID-19 test, helping passengers stranded during the latest wave of omicron. But the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA International, an industry union, said it would do little to help overworked airline staff.

Sara Nelson, president of the AFA, told CNN: “These guidelines were put in place at the request of American companies. It was not put in place for public health initiatives and, frankly, that makes our job even more difficult. The union, however, supports a vaccine requirement for domestic travel. There is not currently.

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