Omicron has many airlines warning of staff shortages, travelers rethinking plans

The uptick in COVID-19 cases is forcing many travelers and major airlines to rethink their plans. Delta Air Lines, for example, is warning of major flight disruptions.

109 million people are expected to travel over the holidays. But many now need to cancel after testing positive, being exposed to COVID-19, or becoming worried they could be exposed.

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Airlines have struggled with staff shortages this year. Now Delta is warning of flight cancellations if its staff, who are required to be vaccinated, either develop breakthrough cases or have to quarantine after exposure.

"They’re having to quarantine for 10 days even if they’re symptom-free," explained Zach Griff with The Points Guy travel website. "So they’re asking the CDC to shorten the quarantines, so they can get their staff, whether its flight crews, ground handlers, checking agents, back in the airport."

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Meantime, Griff says travelers who need to change plans with any airline should be able to at no cost.

"You may be on the hook for the fare difference," he said. "Let’s say you're booked from New York to Boston, and you switch it, New York, to California, that’s a more expensive flight. You’ll be on the hook for that fare difference."

If you bought an economy, non-refundable ticket, Delta and United say travelers with basic economy tickets for flights through the end of 2021 can change them.

"You also still have airlines who are waiving change fees on those tickets also, adding limited-time flexibility," suggested Griff. "So call the airline."

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For hotels and car rentals, most will let you cancel without penalty up to a day or two before check-in and check their cancellation policies.  

If you're canceling in a shorter window than that, Griff suggests, "Just call the hotel directly, speak to the front desk or the in-house reservationist, explain the situation."

Cruises usually offer travelers credit toward a future cruise for cancellations up to a couple of days before departure. Again, check the cruise line's cancellation policy.

Travel insurance doesn't generally cover canceling for COVID-19 concerns unless you have "Cancel For Any Reason" coverage or COVID-19 is specified in the policy. Travelers can usually buy travel insurance up to the last 24 hours before departure. However, buying it much sooner is recommended and can save money.

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