The airline staffing crisis due to Omicron happened so quickly that it literally unfolded while I was in flight on Christmas Eve. There was no sign of an impending wave of cancellations when I boarded a plane at New York’s LaGuardia. But when I arrived three hours later in Kansas City, my parents greeted me at the airport with the news that I was apparently very lucky to have gotten there at all. 

It figures: Just when we thought we could get back to normal-ish holiday celebrations, the Omicron variant of the coronavirus raced through the U.S. at a lightning bolt’s pace. Although about 62% of us are fully vaccinated this time around, breakthrough cases are still popping up everywhere, leading to temporarily shuttered offices, postponed corporate events, impossibly long lines at testing centers and now canceled flights.

About 1,700 flights were scrapped in the U.S. on Dec. 24, Dec. 25 and Dec. 26, according to FlightAware, which describes itself as the world’s largest flight tracking data company. That was followed by more than 900 flight cancellations in the U.S. on Monday, according to the company.

“The nationwide spike in Omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation,” United, the second-largest airline in North America by passenger load, said in a memo obtained by CNN.

Despite the obstacles created by the latest Covid surge, it didn’t entirely dash our spirits – or our holiday travel plans. If they couldn’t fly (or would rather not), people rented cars instead. 

Data collected by Thinknum makes it clear interest in rental cars was way up this year compared with last year. We took a close look at web traffic data for three of the largest U.S. rental car companies — Hertz, Enterprise, and Avis Budget Group. Here is what we found.


Hertz, which emerged from bankruptcy in June, has been popular with the meme-stock crowd for quite a while, perhaps driving some of the traffic to its site. But undeniably, this year’s stats were much higher than last year’s. The Estero, Florida-based company operates Hertz, Dollar and Thrifty car rental brands across the U.S.

We examined web traffic changes on three specific dates for Hertz: Dec. 19, Dec. 20, and Dec. 24. We used each of those days as the starting point for generating charts showing relative ups and downs in daily pageviews per million over the course of the year. Doing so allowed us to see the year-over-year change for a specific date.

With the Christmas holiday weekend looming, web traffic for the Hertz website was up 86% on Dec. 19 over where it was on the same day a year ago.

It jumped even higher the next day. On Dec. 20, it was up 112% compared to the same day in 2020.

And on Christmas Eve, with flight cancellations stranding travelers, people continued to hunt for rentals. Web traffic for Hertz was up 83% on Dec. 24 this year compared with the same day last year.


We saw a similar trend play out for Enterprise. Owned by The Crawford Group, Clayton, Missouri-based Enterprise includes the Alamo and National car rental brands. 

On Dec. 19, web traffic was up 103% year-over-year. 

A few days later on Dec. 22, it was up 80% compared with the same day in 2020.

The bounce was more modest on Christmas Eve. Web traffic for Enterprise was 21% higher on Dec. 24, 2021 than it was on Dec. 24, 2020. 

Avis Budget Group

Based in Parsippany-Troy Hills, New Jersey, Avis Budget Group is the parent of the Avis, Budget Car Rental, Budget Truck Rental, Payless Car Rental and Zipcar brands. Its web traffic was also much stronger in the days before the Christmas holiday this year than last year.

On Dec. 19, web traffic for its site was 60% higher than the same day a year ago.

On Dec. 22, web traffic was 85% higher year -over -year.

And on Christmas Eve, visits to the site kept coming. Web traffic on Dec. 24 was 80% higher this year than the same day last year.

Fortunately in my case, my return flight to New York went just as uneventfully as my flight to Kansas City. And I did not have to rent a car.

About the Data:

Thinknum tracks companies using the information they post online, jobs, social and web traffic, product sales, and app ratings, and creates data sets that measure factors like hiring, revenue, and foot traffic. Data sets may not be fully comprehensive (they only account for what is available on the web), but they can be used to gauge performance factors like staffing and sales.

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