U.S. airlines scrap nearly 1,000 Christmas Day flights due to Omicron

By Reuters   December 25, 2021 | 06:37 pm PT
U.S. airlines scrap nearly 1,000 Christmas Day flights due to Omicron
A view shows empty queuing lines at John F Kennedy International Airport after airlines announced numerous flights were cancelled on Christmas Eve in Queens, New York City, US, on Dec 24, 2021. Photo by Reuters/Dieu-Nalio Chery
U.S. airlines scrapped nearly 1,000 flights on Saturday, the second straight day of massive cancellations as surging Covid infections have sidelined some pilots and other crew members, upending plans for tens of thousands of holiday travelers over the Christmas weekend.

A total of 957 flights were canceled on Christmas Day, including domestic flights and those in and out of the country, up from 690 on Christmas Eve, according to an ongoing count on flight-tracking website FlightAware. com. Almost 2,000 flights were delayed.

At least one airline said it expects hundreds more cancellations on Sunday.

The Christmas holidays are typically a peak time for air travel, but the rapid spread of the highly communicable Omicron variant has led to a sharp increase in Covid-19 infections, forcing airlines to cancel flights as the pilots and crew must be in quarantine.

United Airlines canceled 230 flights while American Airlines canceled 90 flights, company representatives said in separate statements.

"The nationwide increase in Omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation," United spokeswoman Maddie King said. He said cancellations accounted for a small part of United’s average of 4,000 daily flights during the holiday season.

"We are working hard to rebook as many people as possible and get them on track for the holidays," he said.

Winter weather and Omicron forced Delta Air Lines (DAL.N) to clean 344 flights on Saturday, out of approximately 3,000 scheduled flights, "after exhausting all options and resources to avoid those cancellations," a company spokesperson said. adding that the impact was likely to persist into Sunday.

"Delta expects more than 300 of its flights to be canceled on Sunday, December 26," the spokesperson said. "Delta people work together around the clock to redirect and replace aircraft and crews to get customers where they need to be as quickly and safely as possible."

Globally, FlightAware data showed that just over 2,700 flights were canceled on Saturday and another 7,049 were delayed, at 5.30 pm EST.

Among the most affected US airports are Hartsfield-Jackson International in Atlanta, Newark Liberty International in New Jersey, Los Angeles International and JFK International in New York. Six of the 10 world airports hardest hit by the cancellations were Chinese.

Not all airlines were affected equally. A spokesperson for Southwest Airlines said there were no issues to report with the airline’s flights on Saturday.

The Omicron variant was first detected in November and now accounts for nearly three-quarters of cases in the US and up to 90% in some areas, such as the East Coast.

The average number of new coronavirus cases in the U.S. increased 45 percent to 179,000 a day over the past week, according to a Reuters tally.

While recent research suggests that Omicron produces milder illness and a lower rate of hospitalizations than previous Covid-19 variants, health officials have kept a cautious note on the outlook.

Before the Christmas holidays, Americans rushed to test for Covid-19 and many went ahead with their travel plans.

US officials have said that people who are fully vaccinated should feel comfortable to continue vacation travel.

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