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COVID, snow force flight cancellations at Sea-Tac Airport

December 29, 2021 GMT

SEATTLE (AP) — For days, travelers flying to or from the Seattle area have faced cancellations, delays, lost luggage, unexpected hotel stays and mounting frustration amid snowy, frigid winter weather and pandemic-related staffing issues.

Since snow began falling on Sunday, nearly 1,300 flights into and out of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport have been canceled with hundreds more delayed, The Seattle Times reported.

With more snow forecast for Seattle later this week and airline industrywide staffing shortages, many travelers were bracing for more delays and disappointment.

“It’s just staggering,” said Jason Maddocks, a Seattle resident who has been with wife, Amy, in a Houston hotel at their own expense since their Alaska Airlines flight to Seattle was canceled Sunday — and hopes to be on a rebooked flight Wednesday.

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Airlines canceled roughly a quarter of all flights scheduled Tuesday, and 180 flights Wednesday, website FlightAware.com showed on Wednesday morning. Another 183 flights scheduled for Thursday had also been canceled, according to the flight-tracking site.

Wednesday’s cancellations at Sea-Tac Airport represented about a fifth of all cancellations within, into or out of the U.S. on Wednesday, according to FlightAware.

Seattle-based Alaska Airlines spokesperson Bobbie Egan said it was taking up to 30 minutes to “de-ice a single aircraft.” Late Tuesday, the airline said it would be “proactively thinning Seattle departures by about 20% to allow for the additional time … to deice aircraft.”

Also hard-hit by cancellations and delays on Sunday were Horizon, SkyWest and Delta.

Delays and cancellations have also often meant flight crews “timed out,” or went over federal limits regarding how long they can be on duty, which meant the later flights those crews were scheduled for also had to be canceled.

“It literally will take several days to get people and planes back in position where we can put them back into rotation,” Egan said.

Alaska Airlines was also urging flyers with non-essential travel scheduled before Jan. 2 to consider changing their travel to a later date.

Despite “working around the clock” to answer calls, “the number of guests impacted far surpasses our ability to handle them in as quick and timely manner as we would like,” Egan said. “It is not our finest moment and we feel terrible about the situation.”