Omicron is causing mayhem among airlines as 3,500 flights were canceled worldwide during the Christmas weekend, and 2,100 more were grounded on Monday. Flight crews are falling ill on the COVID-19 variant causing operational disruptions that airlines are trying to counter.
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As reported by The New York Times, the total of grounded flights during the Christmas weekend hit 3,500 around the globe while 2,100 more were canceled on Monday. In the U.S., nearly 2,300 flights were canceled on Saturday and Sunday.
“On Sunday alone, more than 1,300 U.S. flights and nearly 1,700 additional ones worldwide were canceled.”
Bad weather and maintenance issues were part of the groundings, but airlines say that the Omicron variant is wreaking havoc as they have —in the words of a JetBlue Airways Corporation (NASDAQ:JBLU) spokesperson— “seen an increasing number of sick calls from Omicron.”
According to FlightAware, 12% of JetBlue flights, 6% of Delta Air Lines Inc. (NYSE:DAL) flights, 5% of United Airlines Holdings Inc (NASDAQ:UAL) flights, and 2% of American Airlines Group Inc (NASDAQ:AAL) flights were canceled Sunday.
JetBlue spokesman Derek Dombrowski said: “Swift and safe adjustments by the CDC would alleviate at least some of the staffing pressures and set up airlines to help millions of travelers returning from their holidays.”
The recovery of air travel has contributed to the spread of Omicron with passenger traffic at airports higher during the Christmas weekend this year, compared to last year. High traffic is also expected for January 2 during New Year’s Eve weekend.
At present, Omicron accounts for 70% of new Covid cases in the U.S. with the variant surpassing Delta as the dominant strain. The more contagious nature of Omicron has made cases soar to 200,000 a day.
On the passengers’ side, Gary Kelly, CEO of Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV), said “masks don’t add much, if anything” to prevent COVID-19 infections onboard, and that air filtration on planes is effective enough.
However, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) asserted that air travelers could be two to three times more likely to catch the COVID-19 Omicron variant onboard.
“The stock prices of United, Delta, American, and Southwest — the four largest U.S. carriers — were 1-2 percent lower in premarket trading on Monday,” the NYT reports.