Delta Air Lines and United Airlines said they canceled flights due to understaffing related to the omicron variant. Delta canceled 145 flights on Friday and 111 for Christmas Day, according to FlightAware. (Other factors, such as the weather, are also causing cancellations.) United canceled 175 flights on Friday and 69 on Saturday.
Not all airlines have said COVID is disrupting their travel schedules. American Airlines said it had “nothing to report” while Southwest Airlines said “things are going well”. JetBlue did not respond to a request for comment.
Flight delays and cancellations related to staff shortages have been a regular problem for the US airline industry this year. Airlines have encouraged workers to quit in 2020, when air travel collapsed, and have been short-staffed this year as travel recovers.
“The nationwide spike in omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operations,” United said in a statement. “As a result, we have unfortunately had to cancel some flights and notify affected customers in advance of their arrival at the airport.”
Delta said it canceled flights on Friday due to the impact of the omicron and the possibility of bad weather after “exhausting all options and resources – including rerouting and substitutions of planes and crews for cover scheduled flights “.
The airlines have both said they are trying to re-let passengers.
While some travelers have canceled vacation plans due to increased cases, many others have stayed on vacation during some of the busiest travel days of the year. The Transportation Security Administration said it plans to screen nearly 30 million people from December 20 to January 3, against nearly 44 million during the last holiday season before the pandemic.
Germany-based Lufthansa said on Friday it was canceling a dozen long-haul transatlantic flights over the Christmas holiday period due to a “massive increase” in sick leave for pilots. The cancellations of flights to Houston, Boston and Washington come despite a “big buffer” of additional staff for the period. The airline said it could not speculate on responsibility for COVID-19 infections or quarantines because it was unaware of the type of illness. Passengers were booked on other flights.
According to FlightAware, there are nearly 3,400 flights canceled on Friday and Saturday, with at least half of the cancellations by Chinese airlines. About 20% of the affected flights – 745 – were to, from or within the United States. This is a small fraction of global flights. FlightAware says it has tracked more than 120,000 arrivals in the past 24 hours.
Coronavirus infections fueled by the new variant have also staff in a hurry in hospitals, police departments, supermarkets and other critical operations that have struggled to maintain a full contingent of frontline workers.
To alleviate staff shortages, countries like Spain and the UK have reduced the length of COVID-19 quarantines by allowing people to return to work sooner after testing positive or exposed to the virus.
Delta CEO Ed Bastian was among those who called on the Biden administration to take similar action or risk further disruption to air travel. Thursday, the United States COVID-19 isolation rules shortened for healthcare workers alone.
McHugh reported from Frankfurt, Germany.
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