Austin travelers stranded in wintry weather as Austin-Bergstrom, other airports hit 12 days with 1,000+ cancellations
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.
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- San Marcos favorite Industry Burger opens "mid-October" on E. 5th, featuring "low key healthy" Texas fare.
- Still Austin Whiskey Co. introduces "The Artist," its new rye whiskey.
- Domain NORTHSIDE favorites Bakery Lorraine, Grimaldi's Pizzeria, Jeni's Ice Cream and Sprinkles released their fall flavors.
- 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.
With major entertainment events slated for October, the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is gearing up for a busy month.
Artists and music lovers are set to pack into Zilker Park for The Austin City Limits Music Festival in the coming two weekends. Following that, Formula One will bring racing fans to the Circuit of the Americas.
For those two events, the airport is anticipating high passenger days with 30,000 or more people departing flights.
ABIA recommends arriving at least two and a half hours in advance for domestic flights on those days. For ACL, it's expected on both Sundays of the festival along with the Monday and Tuesday after. The F1-driven high passenger days are expected on Oct. 20-21 and Oct. 23-26.
\u201c#AustinCityLimits visitors, you\u2019re in for a weird and wild ride \ud83e\udd18\u262e\ufe0f \n\nFlying in or out of our airport? We got firm and fun tips for you: https://t.co/RawVRalOXN\u201d— Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) (@Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS)) 1664894083
F1, especially, could draw in loads of travelers as the three-day event saw 400,000 attendees last year. ABIA warns that highways leading to the airport may see even higher traffic than usual around the event and that travelers should plan their route accordingly.
Bailey Grimmett, a spokesperson for ABIA, said travel numbers come in 24 hours in advance. So, it's hard to predict if the airport will see travel volumes at the same levels that have happened around previous F1 races or if it'll top ACL's flight traffic.
Still, she says historical knowledge points to a chance for it.
“We've had that Monday after F1 break the record for single busiest in airport history," Grimmett said. "So context clues I would say yes, but I can't confirm that. But the historical background points to that."
In anticipation of the high volume of flyers, the airport received additional TSA officers for security screening through the end of October. To prepare even further, the Department of Aviation and partners hosted a job showcase and hiring fair to address the continued labor shortage the airport has experienced.
Relief from hectic travel days is on the horizon with November likely to see a slowdown.
"I don't anticipate it will be as busy as October just because we don't have as many events going on," Grimmett said. "Thanksgiving is kind of our primary holiday that we see a lot of passengers coming in and out of the airport."