Omicron Adds Flight Cancellations

Airlines say they're short-staffed because of the variant's surge
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 26, 2021 1:40 PM CST
Staff Shortages Add to Flight Cancellations
A festively dressed family bound for Arizona walks through Orlando International Airport on Saturday.   (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel via AP)

(Newser) – Airlines canceled hundreds more flights Sunday, citing staffing problems tied to COVID-19, as the nation's travel woes extended beyond Christmas, with no clear indication when normal schedules would resume. More than 700 flights entering, leaving, or flying within the US were called off, according to the flight-tracking website FlightAware. That figure was down from nearly 1,000 on Saturday. More than 50 flights were already canceled for Monday. Delta, United, and JetBlue have blamed the omicron variant of the coronavirus for the staffing shortages, the AP reports.

"This was unexpected," United spokesperson Maddie King said of omicron's impact on staffing. Globally, airlines scrapped about 2,200 flights as of Sunday morning, down from more than 2,800 the day before, FlightAware's data showed. The site does not say why flights are canceled. JetBlue scrapped 10% of its flights Sunday. Delta canceled 5%, and United canceled 4%, according to FlightAware. The three airlines canceled more than 10% of their scheduled flights on Saturday. Spokesperson Derek Walls said American Airlines' Christmas cancellations stemmed from virus-related sick calls.

Expecting a busy holiday season, airlines had offered extra pay to crew members to cover the peak periods. JetBlue said it increased staffing to the highest point of the pandemic, per CNBC. A union said Spirit Airlines, which scrapped more 40 flights on Saturday and Sunday, was paying double to flight attendants who agreed to add trips over the weekend. Globally, flights also were canceled by China Eastern, Air China, Air India, Shenzhen Airlines, Lion Air, and Wings Air, per CNN. (Read more flight cancellation stories.)

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