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Travel

Travelers queue up for shuttle buses to rental car lots at Denver International Airport Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021, in Denver. Airlines canceled hundreds of flights Sunday, citing staffing problems tied to COVID-19 to extend the nation’s travel problems beyond Christmas. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The latest COVID-19 variant is upending holiday plans for tens of thousands of travelers — but it didn’t do much damage to holiday shopping, according to an Associated Press report.

Airlines canceled hundreds more flights Sunday, citing staffing problems tied to COVID-19, as the nation’s travel woes extended beyond Christmas, with no clear indication when normal schedules would resume.

But shoppers shrugged off the omicron variant, and holiday sales rose at the fastest pace in 17 years, according to one spending measure.

Omicron is likely to slow the economy’s unexpectedly strong rebound from last year’s coronavirus recession by disrupting travel and discouraging some consumers from venturing out. The variant could also add more heat to already simmering inflation by forcing shutdowns at factories and ports, delaying shipments and driving up prices.

“A full reopening of the U.S. economy will be delayed yet again,” said Robin Brooks, chief economist at the Institute of International Finance, a trade group of financial firms.

But it’s not yet clear how deep the hurt will go or how long it will last.

For now, the variant is playing havoc with travel. More than 1,100 flights entering, leaving or flying within the U.S. were called off, according to the flight-tracking website FlightAware. That figure was up from nearly 1,000 on Saturday. About 130 flights were already canceled for Monday (Dec. 27).

Despite omicron, American consumers appeared undaunted. Mastercard SpendingPulse, which tracks all kinds of payments, including cash and debit cards, reported Sunday that holiday sales had risen 8.5% from a year earlier, the biggest annual gain in 17 years. Mastercard SpendingPulse had expected an 8.8% increase.

The results, which covered Nov. 1 through Dec. 24, were fueled by purchases of clothing and jewelry. Holiday sales were up 10.7% compared with the pre-pandemic 2019 holiday period.

Click here for the full Associated Press report.