Crew Shortages Cause Nearly 1,800 Flights Cancellations Christmas Weekend
Bloomberg — Airlines’ U.S. flight cancellations neared almost 1,800 for the Christmas weekend, disrupting travel on one of the busiest periods of the year as the omicron-fueled wave of Covid cases triggered air-crew shortages.
Saturday’s pullbacks erased at least 10% of the schedule at Delta Air Lines Inc., United Airlines Holdings Inc. and JetBlue Airways Corp., according to data tracker FlightAware.com. The U.S. cut almost 900 workers on Christmas Day.
“Like many businesses and organizations, we have seen an increasing number of sick calls from omicron,” JetBlue spokesperson Derek Dombrowski said in an emailed statement. “Despite our best efforts, we’ve had to cancel a number of flights, and additional flight cancellations and other delays remain a possibility as we see more omicron community spread.”
Airlines’ tie-ups added to evidence of economic disruptions from the omicron variant, whose fast spread is causing havoc even though initial indications suggest that it causes less-severe illness than other Covid strains. Lack of staff is making it difficult to provide health care. A U.S. Navy Warship was stranded at Guantanamo after suffering a Covid-related outbreak.
FlightAware reports that the worldwide tally for dropped flights was more than 5,700 between Friday and Sunday. China Eastern had the most cancellations, and the most-affected airport was in the Chinese city of Xi’an, where the Beijing government cracked down under its Covid Zero policy after an outbreak.
Delta’s 539 cancellations for the holiday weekend led the U.S. industry, FlightAware data showed, closely followed by United, with 484 flights erased from its holiday itineraries. FlightAware data shows that JetBlue had at the least 201 cancellations during this weekend.
Traveling during the holidays is a difficult time. Transportation Security Administration estimated that Dec. 22/23 and 23, respectively, would be busiest travel days nationally and locally. January 2/3 and 3 will also be busy.
Costumer-complaint messages piled up on the airlines’ Twitter feeds as passengers lamented the disruptions to their holiday weekend plans. On social media, travelers denounced flight delays, cancellations, and lost luggage.
“The nationwide spike in Omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation,” said Maddie King, a spokesperson for United. “As a result, we’ve unfortunately had to cancel some flights and are notifying impacted customers in advance of them coming to the airport.”
Globally, cancellations ranked among the highest at Xi’an Xianyang International Airport, in the western Chinese city where the government punished local officials for failing to curb an outbreak that led to the biggest lockdown since Covid emerged in Wuhan. FlightAware reports that nearly three quarters of all flights from the airport were cancelled Friday and Saturday.
Robert Mann, an ex-executive at American Airlines, is now a consultant and estimates that around 115,000 flights are operated daily worldwide in peak periods such as Christmas.
“As for China, It’s not a very transparent market over there, and what we know there’s been a number of cities that have shut down, and as result that would be expected to impact air service dramatically.”
EasyJet, a British discount airline, said that it has canceled flights to Germany, France, and Germany between Britain and the U.K. for December due to restrictions on U.K. travel.
–With assistance from Charlotte Ryan, Will Davies and Justin Bachman.