As pre-pandemic throngs flock to airports for the holidays, major US airlines have suspended more than nine hundred Christmas Day flights owing to the rapidly spreading omicron strain of COVID-19.
American Airlines, JetBlue Airways, United Airlines, and Delta Airlines have all canceled 950 Saturday flights as of Saturday afternoon.
Delta Air Lines canceled 308 Christmas Day flights and has already suspended 69 planned flights on Sunday.
The cancellations on Saturday came after JetBlue, Delta, and United canceled 454 flights on Christmas Eve.
Delta Air Lines canceled 173 Christmas Eve flights. According to the airline, “flight cancellations are due to a combination of issues, including but not limited to, potential inclement weather in some areas and the impact of the omicron variant.”
“Delta teams have exhausted all options and resources — including rerouting and substitutions of aircraft and crews to cover scheduled flying — before canceling around 90 flights for Friday,” Delta stated in a statement to ABC News on Friday. “We apologize to our customers for the delay in their holiday travel plans. Delta people are working hard to get them to where they need to be as quickly and as safely as possible on the next available flight.”
Not just Delta is suffering the effects of the variant.
As of Saturday afternoon, United has suspended 240 flights on Christmas day and 85 Sunday flights. On Christmas Eve, it canceled 201 flights.
“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 said in a public statement on Friday. “As a result, we’ve unfortunately had to cancel some flights and are notifying impacted customers in advance of them coming to the airport.”
“We’re sorry for the disruption and are working hard to rebook as many people as possible and get them on their way for the holidays,” the airline said.
Due to COVID difficulties, JetBlue has suspended 123 Christmas Day flights. On Christmas Eve, it canceled 80 flights.
“Like many businesses and organizations, we have seen an increasing number of sick calls from Omicron,” JetBlue issued a statement Friday. “We entered the holiday season with the highest staffing levels we’ve had since the pandemic began and are using all resources available to us to cover our staffing needs. Despite our best efforts, we’ve had to cancel a number of flights, and additional flight cancellations and other delays remain a possibility as we see more Omicron community spread.”
However, Alaska Airlines has resorted to providing more money to healthy staff who can perform additional shifts over the forthcoming Christmas weekend.
According to the airline, ten Christmas Eve flights have been canceled owing to some of its staff being quarantined after reporting that they might have contracted COVID-19.
On Christmas Day, American Airlines canceled 88 flights.
“Our operation has been running smoothly, and unfortunately a number of COVID-related sick calls led us to make the difficult decision to precancel some flights scheduled for today,” an American Airlines spokesperson told ABC News on Saturday. “We proactively notified affected customers yesterday, and are working hard to rebook them quickly. We never want to disappoint our customers and apologize for any disruptions to their holiday travel plans.”
Moreover, Airlines for America, a lobbying organization that represents all major American airlines, is urging the CDC to reduce the quarantine period for fully vaccinated passengers, claiming that the omicron spike might cause “severe” problems.
“The omicron surge may exacerbate personnel shortages and create significant disruptions to our workforce and operations,” A4A CEO Nick Calio wrote to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky on Thursday.
Calio advocated that the isolation time for breakthrough infections be reduced to five days from the beginning of symptoms.
“In turn, those individuals would be able to end isolation with an appropriate testing protocol,” Calio stated.
The letter comes after JetBlue Airways and Delta Air Lines, both A4A members, pushed for shorter isolation times for fully vaccinated passengers.