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Passengers, airlines brace for bumpy holiday travel season

Travel experts say fatigue, growing ticket demand and airline employee vaccine mandates are contributing to an ongoing staffing shortage.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Passengers and airline employees are bracing for a potentially turbulent holiday travel season as widespread delays at American Airlines and Southwest Airlines last month are being viewed by travel experts as potential warning signs for airports like Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

According to travel analysts and airline executives, carriers are racing to fill staffing shortages as falling COVID-19 numbers are contributing to increased demand for flights.

The Allied Pilots Association, which is the union for American Airlines’ pilots, and U.S. Freedom Flyers, which is made up of airline employees opposed to vaccine and mask mandates, argued that forthcoming vaccine mandates are contributing to a worker shortage.

Jason Kunisch of U.S. Freedom Flyers was one of a group of pilots who protested mandatory vaccine mandates outside Charlotte Douglas International Airport this weekend. 

RELATED: 'We don't know what's going to happen' | Holiday travel reliability uncertain with travel industry facing shortages, vaccine mandate

Despite the government delaying a vaccine mandate until after the holiday season, Kunisch said workers are still stressed.

"Crews are fatiguing out," Kunisch said. "They're calling out and saying I'm not safe to fly because of the stress that's induced by this."

He argued the stress from mandates could lead to a steady stream of flight delays and cancellations past the holiday season. 

RELATED: US lifts international travel bans, shifts attention to vaccine status

However, some passengers at Charlotte Douglas like Patrick Clements are confident they’ll arrive on-time to their holiday destinations.

"I'm not that concerned about it," Clements said. "We've already got our flights booked and so far, I'm not worried about it."

Ericca Richardson described the situation as a gamble.

"Yes, I am worried," Richardson said. "But hopefully I'm blessed, and everything is good."

Contact Brandon Golder at bgoldner@wcnc.com and follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.