Passengers view the arrival and departure boards at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) in Atlanta, Georgia, United States, on Tuesday, December 21, 2021.
Elijah Newag | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Air travel has a chaotic start to the year.
Airlines canceled more than 5,300 US flights this weekend, as they faced severe weather across the country and staff shortages due to the Covid-19 infection.
On Sunday, airlines canceled more than 2,500 US flights on top of the 2,749 canceled on New Year’s Day, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware.
A winter storm prompted airlines to cancel hundreds of flights at two major Chicago airports on Saturday. The unrest continued Sunday with other cancellations in Atlanta, Denver and the New York City area.
On top of the bad weather, several airlines, including JetBlue Airways, United Airlines and Delta Airlines, have blamed the spike in COVID-19 cases from the rapidly spreading omicron variant among cabin crew.
The travel problems come during what airlines have predicted will be among their busiest since the pandemic began. Last year, the Transportation Security Administration screened nearly 580 million people, up 79% from 2020, but still down 30% compared to 2019 before the pandemic.
The omicron variant presents a new challenge for carriers trying to stabilize after nearly two years of the pandemic.
A passenger sits at the baggage claim center at LaGuardia Airport in New York, on December 24, 2021.
Yuki Iwamura | AFP | Getty Images
“While we expect a full recovery in 2022, it will be a year of two halves,” JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes said in a New Year’s Day crew memo, seen by CNBC. “Our traditional downturns, especially in the next few weeks after the holidays and with COVID-19 cases on the rise, are going to be challenging.”
But Hayes said JetBlue expects “an exceptionally busy summer and we plan to take advantage of this opportunity as we continue to expand our fleet and offer lower fares to more routes.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week eased its guidance that individuals who contract Covid must remain in isolation for up to five days from December 10 to cut the recommended quarantine time, saying that 10 days of isolation will lead to staff shortages.
Cancellations are escalating
Since Christmas Eve, more than 15,000 US flights have been canceled and thousands more postponed, according to FlightAware.
Southwest Airlines had largely escaped some of the severe disruptions that affected rivals earlier in the holidays, but canceled 475 flights on Saturday, 13% of its schedule and 429 flights, or 11%, on Sunday. More than 1,600 flights were delayed in the southwest over the weekend. The airline suspended operations at Chicago airports as of 1 p.m. local time on Saturday ahead of a severe winter storm.
The Southwest has more than 200 daily departures from Midway in Chicago. A spokeswoman for the airline said flights were cut because planners were “expecting the high winds and blizzard snow that our decades of history at this airport show us will slow the airspace and make it very difficult to precipitate and get planes back into the air.” The Southwest spokeswoman had no issues. in employment.
The Federal Aviation Administration also slowed traffic at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, American Airlines’ largest hub, due to hiring, on Saturday. The agency warned last week of continuing unrest.
“It is likely that the weather and heavy seasonal traffic will delay some flights in the coming days,” the agency said in a statement on Friday. “Like the rest of the US population, an increasing number of FAA employees have tested positive for COVID-19. To maintain safety, traffic volumes can be reduced at some facilities, which may lead to delays during busy periods.”
As weather prompted many cancellations on New Year’s Day, airlines including United Airlines, Delta Airlines and JetBlue Airways canceled hundreds of flights over the holidays, citing O’Micron’s injuries among the crews of several disruptions.
incentive pay for employees
Airlines have ramped up incentives for pilots and flight attendants to pick up flights, easing a staff shortage that some executives say could last several more weeks as Covid cases continue to rise.
The Airline Pilots Association, the United Pilots’ Union, has negotiated a triple pay for pilots who fly open flights through most of January, CNBC reported Friday. United flight attendants, cabin crew and pilots at Spirit and others also get paid extra during the busy holiday period.
Airlines have tried to cancel flights early so that customers are not stuck at the airport, confusing ticket counters and rushing to change their plans. JetBlue said this week that it will cut 1,280 flights from its schedule through mid-January to avoid last-minute cancellations as omicron Covid infection crews are sidelined.
FlightAware showed that American, which operates a large hub outside Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, canceled 215 flights, or 8% of its operations, on Saturday and 159 on Sunday. Chicago-based United canceled 175, 8% of its main flights Saturday and 111 on Sunday. Delta canceled 209 flights on Saturday and 175 on Sunday.
Airlines executives said they expected travel demand to rise in 2022 and were preparing to expand their schedules and rush to hire.
Southwest has exceeded its target of hiring more than 5,700 employees, including existing staff and expanded offerings, Greg Mushio, senior director of talent acquisition for Southwest, wrote in a staff memo Thursday. The company aims to increase its number of employees by 8,000 next year.
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