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Due to COVID and weather, more than 1,000 U.S. flights have been cancelled today

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Cancellations are piling up. More than a thousand flights in the U.S. have been canceled today. A mixture of staffing shortages because of the coronavirus and some bad weather have been causing delays for passengers. And those delays and cancellations are raising concerns about New Year's travel. NPR's Wade Goodwyn is in Dallas, which both American and Southwest Airlines call home. Hey, Wade.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Hello.

KELLY: Hey. So I know, as somebody who flew over the Christmas holiday weekend, that things have been rocky and rocky for a few days now. Are the airlines making any progress?

GOODWYN: Yeah, they're making progress. But obviously, when the cancellations for flights in the country are, you know, in the high hundreds every day, it's a serious issue. So the days before and then after Christmas, there was a significant effect for travelers, hundreds. Hundreds of flights just in the Pacific Northwest have been canceled. Thousands of flights canceled nationally yesterday. Today, another thousand flights inside or into or out of the U.S. canceled. You know, here's Kathleen Bangs. She's a pilot, and she's a media representative with the website FlightAware.

KATHLEEN BANGS: What really kick started all of this? The night before Christmas Eve, United Airlines came out with a memo which was, you know, kind of unusual, stating that they had a lot of employees - specifically, they were getting flight crew members calling in sick. They said it's because of the omicron variant.

GOODWYN: And largely the airlines have done a relatively decent job, I think, canceling flights and volume out on a schedule that's prevented these, you know, complete nightmare situations where thousands of passengers are sitting stranded at airport gates. But still, a canceled flight's a pain even if, you know, you're sitting at home or in the hotel and desperately, hopefully trying to reschedule everything.

KELLY: Totally, still a serious pain. Well, and can I raise December 23? Because I know that the record was set that day, number of passengers flying. Are we expecting more of those this coming weekend to bring in more record numbers? What do we know?

GOODWYN: It's all a matter of hope. No, kidding. They are expecting more record numbers of passengers again this weekend, you know, plus the virus complicating the works. I mean, I know the airlines are hoping it's going to be generally OK, but no question, there's a number of serious variables. And here's Kathleen Bangs again from FlightAware.

BANGS: So right now, between Christmas and New Year's, there's a drop in passenger load, but that really will pick up Saturday, Sunday and Monday. So fingers crossed that we have good weather.

GOODWYN: Yeah. And fingers crossed that the pilots and the flight attendants and the airport staff is not going to be inundated with coronavirus and that these thousands of canceled flights will have some measure of being rescheduled. It's not that we're all doomed underdogs, but, you know, a few days of weakening winter weather this weekend and some airline staff virus recovery, that'd be a nice start to the new year. But the coronavirus hasn't exactly been trying to be humanity's best friend, so no guarantees the airlines will have their staffing shortages figured out in a few days. But hopefully, it'll be better.

KELLY: Fingers crossed for all kinds of things there. NPR's Wade Goodwyn reporting from Dallas. Thanks, Wade.

GOODWYN: It's my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Wade Goodwyn is an NPR National Desk Correspondent covering Texas and the surrounding states.