Airlines cancel hundreds of more flights as virus scrambles air travel

More than 1,000 flights in the United States, and thousands more around the world, were canceled on Sunday because the Omicron variant of the coronavirus sidelined crews during one of the busiest weekends. loaded the year for travel.

As of Sunday evening, more than 1,300 flights with at least one stopover in the United States, and more than twice as many worldwide, had been canceled, according to FlightAware, which provides aeronautical data.

Sunday’s grim toll followed thousands of flight cancellations around the world on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The cancellations threatened to disrupt travel plans at a time when many are flying out to spend the Christmas holidays with their families. In the United States, the tradition seemed to resume this year: about two million people passed through checkpoints every day last week, according to the Transportation Security Administration, and the numbers on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Christmases were almost double the equivalent figures last year. .

Twelve percent of JetBlue flights, 6 percent of Delta Air Lines flights, five percent of United Airlines flights and 2 percent of American Airlines flights on Sunday were canceled by noon, according to FlightAware.

JetBlue, said Derek Dombrowski, a spokesperson for JetBlue, has entered the holiday season with its highest level of staff since the start of the pandemic but, he added, the airline has “seen an increasing number of Omicron disease calls ”.

A United spokeswoman cited “crew concerns” in flight cancellations, which FlightAware said on Sunday night totaled 115.

A spokeswoman said on Sunday afternoon that Delta planned to cancel around 200 flights and another 40 on Monday. Earlier this weekend, Delta attributed the wave of cancellations to “winter weather” and “the Omicron variant”.

An American Airlines spokesperson referred an investigation to FlightAware, which reported 83 cancellations on Sunday.

Southwest Airlines canceled just 68 flights, or 1%. The cancellations were entirely caused by weather conditions, said Dan Landson, a spokesperson for Southwest. “We haven’t had any operational issues related to Covid,” he said in an email. Along with United, Delta, and American, Southwest is one of the four largest US carriers.

While the Omicron variant spreads rapidly, the United States is seeing a sharp increase in Covid cases. Its daily Christmas average of about 201,000 daily cases, according to the New York Times coronavirus tracker, exceeds the average number of cases during this summer’s peak, which was driven by the Delta variant.

A business group of airlines has asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to shorten the recommended isolation period for fully vaccinated employees who test positive to a maximum of five days, instead of 10 days before they can return with a negative test.

“Quick and secure adjustments by the CDC would ease at least some of the staffing pressures and put airlines in place to help millions of travelers returning from vacation,” said Mr. Dombrowski, of JetBlue. The flight attendants union, however, demanded that reductions in recommended isolation times be decided “by public health professionals, not the airlines.”

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