US airlines canceled more than 800 flights over the Christmas weekend after a rapidly spreading omicron variant spread to flight crews infected with Covid.
More than 4,200 flights were canceled worldwide on Saturday, more than 870 of them in the United States, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware.
The Omicron infection has infected other industries as well, from restaurants to theatre.
Several major airlines, including Delta, United and Alaska, said they had to cancel flights on Christmas Eve and Christmas after staff and crew members contracted the new coronavirus.
“We are at about 230 connected to Omicron for today and so far we have 50 uploads for tomorrow. We continue to manage everything day in and day out and give customers as many notices as possible so they can change their plans if necessary,” United said in a statement on Saturday.
The disruptions come after airline executives said they were expecting some of the busiest days since the pandemic began over the year-end holidays, despite an increase in Covid infections, driven by the Omicron formula. The Transportation Security Administration screened nearly 2.2 million people Thursday, up from 846,500 but shy of the more than 2.5 million who crossed TSA checkpoints two years ago, before the pandemic.
United said it was trying to rebook as many travelers as possible. Most cancellations were announced the day before.
American Airlines executives this week asked Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials to ease quarantine guidelines for fully vaccinated individuals who have tested positive for Covid for five of the current 10 days, citing potential staff shortages and flight disruptions. The CDC relaxed its guidance for health care workers on Thursday.
Delta canceled more than 160 flights, or 8% of its schedule, Friday, citing bad weather in Salt Lake City and the Seattle area, two of its hubs, and the impact of a rapidly spreading omicron variable. Delta canceled more than 170 flights on Saturday, while United canceled more than 130. JetBlue Airways canceled more than 70 flights on Friday, about 7% of its daily operations.
In a statement on Saturday, American Airlines said: “Our operation has been going smoothly and unfortunately a number of sick calls related to the coronavirus have led to the difficult decision to cancel some flights scheduled for today. We have proactively notified affected customers yesterday, and are working hard to rebook them. Quickly. We never want to disappoint our customers and apologize for any disruption to their holiday travel plans.”
In a statement to NBC News on Thursday, Alaska Airlines said it had canceled 17 flights, adding that more cancellations were likely Friday “during this dynamic situation.”
“Delta teams have exhausted all options and resources – including rerouting and replacing aircraft and crews to cover scheduled flights – before canceling about 90 flights for Friday,” the airline said in a statement on Thursday. “We apologize to our customers for the delay in their holiday travel plans. Delta staff are working hard to get them where they need to be as quickly and safely as possible on the next available flight.”
The airlines said more than 90% of Delta employees and more than 96% of US employees are vaccinated.
Delta and United’s disruptions are far fewer than the mass cancellations some airline customers faced this summer and fall as airlines, including America and the US Southwest, faced staff shortages and bad weather.
Both of these companies offered additional compensation for employees to work at peak vacation trips and meet attendance goals. According to FlightAware, Southwest had only canceled once on Friday while American had 11 cancellations.
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