Pandemic creating problems during one of RDU’s busiest air travel periods


MORRISVILLE, N.C. (WNCN) – The period between Christmas and New Year continues to be one of the busiest air travel times, but the pandemic is creating problems for some who are trying to fly.

According to FlightAware, more than 2,800 flights were canceled Monday, compounding a weekend that had high numbers of canceled flights.

A lot of it has to do with airlines being unable to supply the necessary personnel to staff those flights because of COVID-19.

Traveler Lillian Umar said she’s nervous about her flights being caught up in delays or canceled outright.

“It’s s a little concerning,” she said.

With an estimated 8 million people moving through the system between now and New Year’s Day, there’s a lot of potentially frustrated passengers if flights are canceled.

“I was concerned, but I called ahead and checked the apps and everything on my flight seems to be OK,” said traveler Ken Vollmer. “However, I’m traveling to Atlanta and from Atlanta going to Germany. Hopefully, I don’t have a problem in Atlanta because I’d be stuck in Atlanta.”

Several airlines reported staff shortages that started around Christmas because of the omicron variant.

In the hopes of getting staff back sooner, Delta Airlines asked the CDC to shorten isolation times from 10 days to five for vaccinated workers who test positive for COVID-19.

Other airlines are asking employees to work extra using the lure of bigger paychecks just like they did a few weeks ago.

“I have a niece who is a flight attendant with American Airlines, and over Thanksgiving, they were offering triple pay to work that week,” said traveler Ron Glass. “She said she was going to do it because she needed the money.”

For some of those flying, they’ll rely on precautions to keep the virus at bay.

“I’ve got a mask and an N95 mask that I wear inside the plane,” Vollmer said. “Eating, I’ll take it off for a brief period, but they have HEPA filters on the plane in the air. They were supposed to be better than it is normally.”

Because omicron is a fast-spreading variant, some lawmakers want to crack down on the unvaccinated who fly.

They’ve sent a letter to the FAA and CDC asking them to make the unvaccinated show proof of negative COVID-19 test to fly domestically — something international travelers have to do already.

Jacob Streilein is flying to Canada and had to get a COVID-19 test that shows he is negative for the virus.

He said getting it in time was an issue.

“I think it’s double the amount of travel stress this time around.”

Maureen White said she would be willing to take a test.

“I don’t feel it’s any inconvenience at this time,” she said. “I’m just not sure how long the test will take to come back.”

Getting those test results in a timely fashion is already an issue for some international travelers.

“For us to go to Ireland is not stressful because you can do a rapid test to fly there,” said Margaret Batts. “But, you have to have a PCR test to go to Abu Dhabi and try to get test results back in time is very stressful.”

At the moment, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation said he doesn’t think having the unvaccinated get a negative COVID-19 test to fly domestically is necessary.

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