Omicron variant: Flight cancellations drag on as airlines short-staffed

Delta, United and JetBlue say the Omicron variant is causing staffing problems leading to flight cancellations


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Holiday travelers line up at the security checkpoint check point at Pittsburgh International Airport. — AP
Holiday travelers line up at the security checkpoint check point at Pittsburgh International Airport. — AP

Published: Sat 25 Dec 2021, 9:54 PM

Airlines continued to cancel hundreds of flights on Saturday as staffing issues tied to Covid-19 disrupted holiday celebrations during one of the busiest travel times of the year.

FlightAware, a flight-tracking website, noted 888 flights entering, leaving or inside the US cancelled on Saturday, up from 690 on Friday. About 200 more flights were already cancelled for Sunday. FlightAware does not say why flights are cancelled.

Delta, United and JetBlue on Friday had all said the Omicron variant was causing staffing problems leading to flight cancellations. United spokesperson Maddie King said staffing shortages were still causing cancellations and it was unclear when normal operations would return. “This was unexpected,” she said of Omicron’s impact on staffing. Delta and JetBlue did not immediately respond to questions Saturday.


According to FlightAware, the three airlines cancelled more than 10 per cent of their Saturday scheduled flights. American Airlines also cancelled 90 flights on Saturday, about 3 per cent of its schedule, according to FlightAware. American spokesperson Derek Walls said the cancellations stemmed from “Covid-related sick calls” and the airline contacted customers on Friday. European and Australian airlines have also cancelled holiday-season flights due to staffing problems tied to Covid.

Flight delays and cancellations tied to staffing shortages have been a regular problem for the US airline industry this year. Airlines encouraged workers to quit in 2020, when air travel collapsed, and were caught short-staffed this year as travel recovered.

To ease staffing shortages, countries including Spain and the UK have reduced the length of Covid-19 quarantines by letting people return to work sooner after testing positive or being exposed to the virus.

Delta CEO Ed Bastian was among those who have called on the Biden administration to take similar steps or risk further disruptions in air travel. On Thursday, the US shortened Covid-19 isolation rules for health care workers only.

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