Atlanta travelers find gratitude amid hundreds of canceled Christmas flights

ATLANTA (CBS46) — On a day filled with hugs and holiday cheer, dozens of flights at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport brought heartaches to some travelers.

Deborah Burris was close to tears after her flight to Africa was canceled Friday morning.

“Everything’s canceled,” said Deborah Burris. “It was more than just Christmas.”

For her holiday travel, Burris planned to bring books, papers, pencils, and other gifts for children on the other side of the world.

“We were going to celebrate the continent. This is nothing but school supplies for children,” she said, as she opened a large bag.

This trip to Africa was one of more than 300 flights from Delta, United, and other carriers cancelled Christmas Eve partially due to the Omicron variant. Roughly one in 10 United flights were cancelled, according to the online flight tracking service Flight-Aware.

In a statement to CBS46, United Airlines addressed the cancelled flights:

“The nationwide spike in Omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation. As a result, we’ve unfortunately had to cancel some flights and are notifying impacted customers in advance of them coming to the airport. We’re sorry for the disruption and are working hard to rebook as many people as possible and get them on their way for the holidays.”

Delta Airlines warned more cancellations could be on the way. The airline expects 150 flights to be cancelled Saturday and Sunday.

The Christmas calamity hit especially hard for those visiting loved ones.

Jean-Pierre Wetli said his family was boarding their flight to visit his mother in Phoenix when they were told the plane wouldn’t take off, despite being minutes out from its scheduled departure.

“It’s crazy to be fifth in line ready to board your flight last minute,” said Wetli. “I thought it was a mistake. There’s no way.”

Wetli said the late cancellation caused chaos at the gate. Travelers scrambled to find alternative flights.

His family re-booked his flight for Sunday, but Wetli is disappointed he won’t spend the holiday with his mother for the second year in a row.

“Christmas is special. We haven’t been out to see them for a long time we were really looking forward to it,” he said.

Amid the untimely flight cancellations, some travelers struggled to find ideal rebooking options.

April Goober and Peter Torres were stranded at Hartsfield-Jackson although admittedly on their own accord. The couple missed their flight by minutes while using the restroom.

“We’re in the same boat as these people who have had their flights cancelled. We feel for them,” said Torres.

Goober and Torres said they were initially supposed to take off at 11:30 a.m. After missing their flight, the next available option was around 7 p.m.

“We’re not going to get there until midnight,” said Torres. “Perfect timing – here comes Santa Claus!”

As rebookings and realizations set in, a glimmer of gratitude appears in the holiday hustle.

“Maybe it’s time for us to relax. All this travelling is hectic and so much on your stress levels,” said Torres.

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