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Austin travelers stranded in wintry weather as Austin-Bergstrom, other airports hit 12 days with 1,000+ cancellations

Southwest Airlines and other national airline companies canceled flights Thursday due to winter weather and omicron staffing shortages. (Claire Partain/Austonia)

As winter weather and an omicron COVID surge rage on, Austin resident Mark Debs was stuck in limbo in snowy Pittsburgh after yet another flight delay affected his business trip on Thursday.

For the 12th straight day, there were more than 1,000 flight cancellations in the U.S. Thursday—over 50 of which stopped travelers from coming to and from Austin. By 4 p.m., 26 of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport's 221 outbound flights were canceled, while 133 arriving and departing flights were canceled or delayed, according to FlightAware.

Debs, who left Austin for Pittsburgh on a business trip Tuesday, saw three delays in his two-day trip: once, in a layover in Chicago and twice before the flight back home. He was supposed to be in Austin by sunset Thursday; instead, he said he probably won't make it back until midnight.

"I and my colleague have gone through about 15 hours of training and another 16 hours of traveling, and now we're still sitting here waiting," Debs said. "It's frustrating. Traveling itself is already exhausting, especially when you're doing it for business, and you kind of just want to be in your comfort zone at some point... but the delay is not allowing that."

Mark Debs has seen multiple delays at the airport as he tries to return home from a business trip. (Mark Debs)

Many airlines are blaming a blast of winter weather, which caused even Austin temperatures to plummet over the weekend, for the wave of canceled and delayed flights. A snowstorm that slammed the Midwest just after the new year quickly hit 18 states and later made 850,000 in the East lose power early in the week. Debs worried that more forecasted snow could delay their flight even further.

ABIA public information officer Bryce Dubee told Austonia that airlines say staffing shortages due to omicron, along with winter weather, were causing a "ripple effect" on flights. While Dubee said that the airport hasn't been too swamped with stuck passengers because traffic is usually lower at this time of year, Debs said he felt new tension in the air from frustrated travelers in the packed Chicago airport.

"I think everyone's kind of on edge," Debs said. "Everyone's getting delayed, so pretty much everyone's compacted in these gate areas, and just like no social distancing at all... I think some people care and some people don't care about the COVID (surge). It seems a little reckless to be honest."

Austin's flight cancellation woes have persisted for over a week, but the airport's been trained for these kinds of events—in October, Southwest Airlines canceled 72 flights in under two days just after ACL, leaving thousands stranded. Southwest once again grappled with the most cancellations Thursday, accounting for 33 of Austin's nixed trips and around a third of canceled flights nationwide.

Days after the airline said it was unaffected by a spike in COVID sick calls, the airline said Thursday it is working to "stabilize the operation again" after suffering from staffing shortages due to the virus as well as winter weather.

Disgruntled Southwest travelers, including Debs, said he's never experienced travel conditions with this many obstacles and will reconsider traveling in the wintertime in the future.

"It won't really affect me any other time of year, but I can definitely take note at wintertime," Debs said. "This could be in the back of my mind for sure."

For other stranded passengers, ABIA says it is always best to check with your airline before heading to the airport and contacting the airline before the airport for cancellation concerns.


Bites & Sips: what's new in food and drink
Consumable Content

  • San Marcos favorite Industry Burger opens "mid-October" on E. 5th, featuring "low key healthy" Texas fare.
  • Cinnaholic at The Arboretum opens Friday, October 14, serving "create your own" cinnamon rolls and other sweet treats.
  • San Francisco's Marufuku Ramen opens next Wednesday, October 12, in the Mueller District.
  • Carpenter Hotel announces its popup food truck, Lil Carpenter, open Fri-Sun both ACL weekends, serving what you want, early to late, coffee to donuts, to dogs/burgers/fries/beer.
Airport braces for high traffic this month with ACL and F1 drawing in travelers

(AUS airport/Instagram)

With major entertainment events slated for October, the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is gearing up for a busy month.

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