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- British actress
As COVID infections soared to near record levels and holiday flights were grounded, Rebecca Hunter figured she’d need wings and prayer if her extended family of 11 was going to make it to Orlando from California and Utah in time for a cruise she began planning more than a year ago.
”I prayed a whole lot,” said Hunter, 49, of Utah “I prayed no one got COVID. I prayed no one’s flight got canceled. I prayed for good weather.”
All 11 arrived healthy and on schedule Christmas Day at Orlando International Airport for their seven-day, island-hopping voyage.
“Hallelujah,” she said as the family, luggage in tow, set off for Cape Canaveral and Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas.
Other fliers were not as lucky — or merry.
The number of cancellations globally for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day added up to more than 3,800, the Flight Aware website showed.
More than 1,000 cancellations were in the U.S., blamed primarily on staffing shortages traced to the highly contagious omicron strain.
Airlines canceled 44 arriving or departing flights at OIA as the omicron variant wrecked holiday flying schedules for a second straight day.
Over Christmas Eve and Christmas, 75 flights into or out of Orlando were called off by airlines, including Delta, JetBlue, United and WestJet, according to the airport.
Not all airlines said COVID was disrupting their travel schedules.
American Airlines said it had “nothing to report” while Southwest Airlines said “things are running smoothly.”
JetBlue, which FlightAware said had canceled nearly 150 flights Friday and Saturday, did not respond to a request for comment.
Flight delays and cancellations tied to staffing shortages have been a regular problem for the U.S. airline industry this year.
Airlines encouraged workers to quit in 2020, when air travel collapsed, and were caught short-staffed this year as travel recovered.
OIA’s parking lots continued to be jam-packed: North Park Place, garages A and B, Terminal Top and the Economy Overflow remained closed as of Saturday afternoon. The West and South Park Place lots were open, according to spokeswoman Caitlin Dineen.
Many Christmas travelers reported relatively stress-free flights aboard planes with flight attendants in holiday garb.
“Some people seemed a little stressed, but it wasn’t too bad,” said Claire Majers, 24, who flew into Orlando from St. Louis with her parents and brother Luke, part of a family entourage that will spend six days in Central Florida, including a visit to Universal Orlando’s The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Their group had hoped to come last year but COVID got in the way, she said.
Some travelers said they chose to vacation in Florida because the state has fewer COVID restrictions in place than New York or California.
But others said they were concerned about rising infections.
The state on Christmas Eve reported 125,000 new cases from Dec. 17-23, an average of nearly 18,000 a day.
The sharp spike in cases was driven by an increase in both tests and positivity rates.
Florida administered over 900,000 tests in the past week, up from nearly 550,000 the week before.
The state’s positivity rate also jumped to 13.8 percent, more than double the 5.3 percent rate from the week before.