Omicron drives Christmas weekend flight cancellations above 1,500

Delta Airlines and an American Airlines plane taxi from their gate ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday at Logan International Airport in Boston, Massachusetts, the United States, on November 22, 2021.

Brian Snyder | Reuters

Airlines canceled more than 300 flights on Sunday as disruptions from the Omicron variant of Covid-19 continued to affect crews and staff.

As of Friday, airlines have scrubbed more than 1,500 U.S. flights and cut travel during the busy holiday weekend. United Airlines, Delta Airlines, American Airlines and JetBlue Airways cited the spread of Omicron among crews as the reason for the rejections.

Data from flight tracking site FlightAware showed Delta canceled 5% of its flight schedule, or 131 flights, on Sunday after canceling 310 the day before. United had canceled 95 flights, or 4% of its main flight schedule, up from 240 flights on Saturday. JetBlue canceled 236 flights on Saturday and Sunday.

Airlines said they expected the year-end vacation season to include some of the busiest days since the pandemic began. After staff shortages caused flight disruptions in the past few months, airlines offered crews additional pay to work during the main holiday periods and meet attendance targets.

A JetBlue spokesman said the New York-based airline had entered the holiday season with the highest workforce since the pandemic began.

“As with many companies and organizations, we have seen an increasing number of sick leave from Omicron,” he said in a statement. “Despite our best efforts, we have had to cancel a number of flights and further flight cancellations and other delays remain as the Omicron community continues to expand.”

The airline cut its schedule in advance to avoid last-minute disruption and also assigned managers to the front lines when they are trained, the spokesman added.

Spirit Airlines On Saturday and Sunday together, more than 40 flights were canceled, fewer than other airlines, but it offered flight attendants double pay for picking up trips that weekend, its union said.

U.S. airline executives last week urged the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to Relax quarantine guidelines for fully vaccinated people who tested positive for Covid, to five days from the current 10, citing potential staff shortages and flight disruptions. the CDC has relaxed its guidelines for medical workers with groundbreaking Covid infections last week.