Extreme climate, omicron infections drive hundreds extra U.S. flight cancellations

Airlines canceled more than 2,600 U.S. flights on New Year’s Day as they faced severe weather conditions across the country and an increase in employee Omicron infections, affecting air travel during the year-end vacation.

The problems are not resolved that quickly. By Saturday afternoon, the airlines had already canceled more than 1,000 US flights planned for Sunday. More than 13,700 U.S. flights have been suspended and thousands more delayed since Christmas Eve, according to flight tracking site FlightAware.

The travel problems occur during the airlines which are among the busiest days since the pandemic began. Last year, the Transportation Security Administration screened nearly 580 million people, up 79% from 2020 but still a decrease of about 30% from pre-pandemic 2019.

Southwest Airlines had largely escaped some of the serious disruptions affecting the rivals over the holidays, but scrubbed 473 flights on Saturday, 13% of the schedule, according to FlightAware. More than 600 more were delayed. Because of a severe winter storm, the airline stopped flight operations at Chicago airports from 1 p.m. local time.

Southwest has more than 200 daily departures from Chicago Midway International Airport. An airline spokeswoman said flights were suspended because planners expected “the gusty winds and snowdrifts that show us decades of operations at this airport will slow down the airspace, de-icing and reloading of planes.” make it very difficult. “The spokeswoman for Southwest had no staffing problems.

The Federal Aviation Administration has also slowed traffic at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. American Airlines‘largest hub, due to staffing levels. Earlier this week, the agency warned the disruption would continue.

“Weather and heavy seasonal traffic will likely lead to some travel delays in the coming days,” the agency said on Friday. “Like the rest of the US population, an increased number of FAA employees have tested positive for COVID-19. To ensure safety, the volume of traffic in some facilities could be reduced, which can lead to delays in peak times. “

While the weather caused many of the cancellations on New Year’s Day, airlines have included United Airlines, Delta Airlines and JetBlue Airways canceled hundreds of flights over the holidays, citing omicron infections among the crews for many of the disruptions.

Airlines have increased incentives for pilots and flight attendants to take trips and remove staffing bottlenecks that some executives say could last for several weeks as Covid cases continue to rise.

The Air Line Pilots Association, United Pilots’ Union, negotiated triple pay for fliers picking up open travel for most of January, CNBC reported on Friday. United flight attendants and both cabin crew and pilots spirit and others receive bonuses even during the busy holiday season.

Airlines have tried to cancel flights early so customers don’t get stuck at the airport, overwhelm ticket counters and have to change their plans. JetBlue announced this week that it will be 1,280 flights deleted from the flight schedule by mid-January in order to avoid short-term cancellations, as the crews of Omicron Covid infections are on the sidelines.

American, which operates a major hub out of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, canceled 208 flights, or 7% of its operations, on Saturday, FlightAware data showed. Chicago-based United has canceled 158.7% of its main-haul flights. Delta has canceled nearly 200 flights, 9% of its Saturday flight schedule.

Airlines executives said they expect travel demand to rise in 2022 and have prepared to expand their schedules and recruit new employees.

Southwest has surpassed its goal of hiring more than 5,700 employees, including onboarding staff and expanded offerings, Greg Muccio, Southwest’s senior director of talent acquisition, wrote in an employee release Thursday. The airline is aiming for another 8,000 more employees next year.

However, the omicron variant is a new challenge for carriers.

“While we expect a full recovery in 2022, it will be a two-half year,” said JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes in an employee New Years Day memo seen by CNBC. “Our traditional lows, especially in the next few weeks after the holidays and as COVID-19 cases rise, are going to be tough.”

However, Hayes said that JetBlue expects an “exceptionally busy summer and plans to take advantage of this opportunity as we continue to expand our fleet and offer low fares on additional routes.”

New Covid variant reveals indicators of antibody resistance, extra extreme sickness in younger folks

Radoslav Zilinsky moment | Getty Images

Scientists at Texas A & M University’s Global Health Research Complex have reportedly discovered a new variant of Covid-19 that shows signs of an infectious strain that causes more serious diseases and appears to be resistant to antibodies.

The new variant BV-1, named for its Brazos Valley origin, was found during routine coronavirus screening by Texas A & M via a saliva sample in a young student with mild symptoms of cold. The student tested positive for Covid on March 5 and tested positive again on March 25, showing that the new strain can cause prolonged infection in younger people. The student’s symptoms resolved by April 2nd and a third test on April 9th ​​was negative.

Texas A&M scientists say cell culture-based experiments from other laboratories showed that multiple neutralizing antibodies did not affect the control of other variants with the same genetic markers as BV-1.

“We don’t currently understand the full meaning of this variant, but it has a combination of mutations that are similar to other internationally notifiable variants,” said Ben Neuman, chief virologist at Texas A&M. “This variant combines genetic markers that are separate with faster Spread, serious disease and high resistance to neutralizing antibodies are linked. “

The scientists also say they presented a paper on BV-1 to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to alert officials before it spreads further.

The lab has identified many Covid mutations through its genetic sequencing program, but Neuman said the genetic makeup of this strain is of particular concern.

“We haven’t seen any other cases of this variant,” added Neuman. “We have not grown or tested this virus in any way. This announcement is based solely on genetic sequence analysis performed in the laboratory.”

Many U.S. labs only sequence severe Covid cases, but the Texas A&M lab tests and sequences asymptomatic students to detect dangerous strains early before they can cause serious illness.

“Sequencing helps provide an early warning system for new variants,” said Neuman. The lab’s scientists say they do not yet understand the full meaning of BV-1, but believe the variant “highlights an important need for strict surveillance and genomic testing,” especially in young adults who are asymptomatic or who show mild symptoms .

Scientists at the lab say the new variant is related to strain B.1.1.7 from the UK, against which current vaccines have been shown to be effective. The related British strain makes up a large part of the variant infections in the United States