Hundreds of flights in the United States and thousands around the world were canceled on Sunday because the Omicron variant of the coronavirus made crews sick during one of the busiest weekends of the year for travel.
By noon as of Sunday, more than 750 flights with at least one stopover in the United States, and about three times as many globally, had been canceled, according to FlightAware, which provides aviation 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. .
Ten percent of JetBlue flights, 5 percent of Delta Air Lines flights, 4 percent of United Airlines flights and 2 percent of American Airlines flights on Sunday were canceled by noon, according to FlightAware.
Derek Dombrowski, a spokesperson for JetBlue, has confirmed the approximately 110 cancellations reported by FlightAware. JetBlue, he said, 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 confirmed the 100 or so canceled flights reported by FlightAware, citing “concerns about crew personnel.”
A spokeswoman said on Sunday afternoon that Delta had canceled 161 flights and planned to cancel 40 more, as well as 40 more 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 67 cancellations on Sunday.
Southwest Airlines canceled just 56 flights, or 1%, but 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 American carriers.
While the Omicron variant becomes the dominant form of the virus, the United States is seeing a sharp increase in Covid cases. Its daily Christmas average of around 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 attributed to an earlier variant of the virus known as from Delta.
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.”