A wave of flight cancellations continued on Christmas Day, with U.S. airlines cutting nearly 1,000 flights as the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus caused crew members to call in sick.
Cancellations affected more than 10% of scheduled flights by Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and JetBlue. American Airlines had canceled less than 5% of flights, according to FlightAware, which provides aviation data.
By noon as of Saturday, the number of cancellations had already surpassed the total number of cancellations on Christmas Eve, a setback for travelers and airlines who were hoping this holiday season would be back to relative normal. Globally, more than 2,500 flights scheduled for Christmas Day have been canceled.
“A number of Covid-related illness calls have made us make the difficult decision to pre-cancel some flights scheduled for today,” said Derek Walls, spokesman for American Airlines, which has recorded around 90 cancellations Saturday. “We proactively notified affected customers yesterday and are working hard to re-let them quickly.”
And the problems should continue. Delta, which said weather conditions in parts of the country were also causing problems, is expected to cancel more than 300 flights scheduled for Sunday. And FlightAware said other U.S. airlines have already canceled 150 flights for December 26.
Cancellations come during one of the busiest travel times of the year, and Americans fly almost as much as they did before the pandemic, with an estimated 2 million people passing through checkpoints every day in during the week before Christmas Eve, according to the Transportation Security Administration. At times, the number of travelers this year has even exceeded the number of passengers who flew in 2019, according to TSA data.
The travel period also came amid a new wave of Covid cases. The United States averages nearly 200,000 new cases every day, according to the New York Times coronavirus tracker, more than the average number of cases during this summer’s peak.
A commercial group of airlines request the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday to shorten the recommended isolation period for employees testing positive for Covid-19 from 10 days to “no more than five days,” with a negative test coming back. “Omicron’s push may exacerbate staff shortages and create significant disruption in our workforce and operations,” the group, Airlines for America, wrote in a letter to the director of the CDC.
But the Association of Flight Attendants rejected the request, telling the CDC on Thursday that “we support your agency’s current recommendation to isolate for 10 days” and that decisions to reduce isolation times “should be made by public health professionals, not by airlines. “