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

After a wave of flight cancellations at Charlotte Douglas International Airport this weekend, many are apprehensive about finding reliable holiday travel plans.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — While American Airlines seems to finally be back on schedule with flights, it canceled thousands of flights over the weekend. It has some travelers worried about what all of these lapses in operation could mean for holiday travel.

RELATED: American Airlines rebounding after wave of canceled flights at Charlotte airport

Trisha Howard said whatever her holiday plans end up being, she knows they won't include an airplane.

“Absolutely not," Howard said. "If it is, it’ll be by car.” 

Howard said the experience over the weekend trying to travel aCharlotte Douglas International Airport was a nightmare. She said her flight was rebooked and canceled multiple times with no help to be found.

"There was a four-hour wait on customer service," Howard said. "Everyone needed to be rebooked. Everyone.” 

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Howard eventually took matters into her own hands, with the help of a stranger.

“I met a man that was willing to rent a car and we shared the expense,” Howard said. 

While it was not the ideal situation, it showed the length she was willing to go to meet her newborn granddaughter.

“It was weird you know, he was just as skeptical as I was," Howard said.

RELATED: Flight canceled? Here's what you need to know

“What you saw this past weekend is nothing compared to what's coming,” Josh Yoder, a pilot with a major airline and co-founder of US Freedom Flyers, said. 

Yoder said thousands of their members are airline employees who don’t want to comply with the vaccine mandate.

“People should not be forced to choose between taking a vaccine they don’t believe in and their livelihood," Yoder said.

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Yoder plans to protest at the Charlotte airport Saturday with other airport and airline workers. He said the move would severely cripple holiday travel if unvaccinated airline workers were not allowed to work after the federal vaccine mandate deadline of Dec. 8. 

“Obviously everyone's looking at pilots and flight attendants," Yoder said. "But you have to remember there's gate agents, there's ground crew, there's dispatchers, [and] crew schedulers that feel the same way we do. If you lose all those people it's going to be devastating.” 

On top of the mandate, American Airlines already has a staffing shortage, Piedmont Airlines’ flight attendants could go on strike, and Charlotte Douglas Airport reports that many of their dozens of partners at the airport have job openings.

RELATED: Piedmont Airlines flight attendants vote to authorize a strike

Travel expert Roni Fishkin with Mann Travels said her best advice is for holiday travelers to be prepared for possible changes.

"Make sure you check and recheck your departure times," Fishkin said. "We don’t know what's going to happen, I hope the airlines are prepared.”   

On Monday, the White House announced it would give federal contractors like American and Southwest flexibility in how the vaccine mandate is enforced. This means there is a chance employees wouldn’t immediately be terminated. 

Yoder maintains that there just shouldn’t be a mandate at all, and warns that Christmas travel could be difficult as long as a mandate is in place. 

Contact Lana Harris at lharris@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and on Instagram. 


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