At PDX, Omicron and Snow Delays Are Snarling Holiday Travel

Things should ease up, but at least one major airline is asking that you postpone nonessential flights.

By Karly Quadros December 30, 2021

If you're headed to PDX this holiday weekend, be prepared for some delays.

Christmas vacation just got longer. The eggnog has been drunk, the presents have all been unwrapped, and the in-laws have been kissed goodbye, but hundreds now are stuck on the ground at Portland International Airport and elsewhere as flights nationwide have been canceled due to inclement weather here in the Pacific Northwest and increasing concerns about the fast-spreading omicron variant. 

Seattle-based Alaska Airlines and Atlanta-based Delta Airlines both put out travel advisories on Christmas Eve as icy and snowy weather created unsafe flying conditions. As an estimated 48,000 travelers filtered through Portland International Airport on Monday, December 27, alone; 48 flights were canceled that day as crews hustled to defrost planes and keep tarmacs clear. 

From there, the cancellations spiraled outwards. 

“A lot of times people will look at cancellations and say, it doesn’t make sense,” says Kama Simonds, aviation media relations manager for the Port of Portland. “When the weather hit hard up north in Seattle and Salt Lake City, that impacted a lot of carriers that have flights between those cities and Portland. We saw a ripple effect because the planes that were supposed to come here and take people to other cities never made it to the airport.” 

Of note: Travelers who booked their flight through a third-party app such as Travelocity, Orbit, or Expedia may be more at risk of flight disruptions than others, as they may be more likely to get bumped from oversold flights. They also may be a lower priority when airlines have to rebook passengers after a canceled flight.

Simonds says that PDX saw 53 cancellations on Sunday, 48 on Monday, 33 on Tuesday, 23 on Wednesday, and as of 8 a.m. 17 canceled flights on Thursday. The good news is that cancellations are on the decline and weather is warming up, which means melting snow and clearer skies. 

One of the many travelers stranded is Brooke Jackson-Glidden, editor of Eater PDX (and an occasional Portland Monthly contributor). Her initial flight from Sarasota, Florida, to Atlanta went by without a hitch, she says, but the trouble arose when her 3:45 p.m. flight on Delta from Atlanta to Portland was canceled just hours before it was set to take off on Thursday. 

“My partner’s mother called to let us know the flight was canceled,” she says. “The airline didn’t even send us a notification.” 

Her travel problems had begun a day earlier when Delta downgraded and separated her and her partner's seats. “We spent five hours on hold,” Jackson-Glidden says, trying to get back the airline miles spent on the more expensive seats (an ultimately unsuccessful effort). 

After the flight was canceled entirely, she was able to reschedule relatively quickly at the airport, but the whole ordeal has eaten up more time and energy. With a newly added five-hour layover in Delta hub Salt Lake City, “we’re just hoping to get home by [2022],” she says. 

Weather isn’t the only headache for travelers, though. United Airlines has canceled hundreds of flights nationally due to staff at home dealing with the omicron variant. But Simonds reports that in Portland proper, airlines have not reported any staffing shortages due to omicron. 

So, what should you do if your flight has been canceled? 

Simonds recommends rescheduling a flight through the airline’s website, not at airport desks where long lines can be tedious and frustrating. If you are stranded at PDX, airport officials can also help you find nearby lodging. And it never hurts to give yourself plenty of time to adapt to change by getting to the airport early. 

In the meantime, Alaska Airlines is encouraging people to hold off on nonessential travel or push back their departure to a later date.