Omicron Wreaks Havoc on Holiday Travel

Carolyn Crist

December 27, 2021

The Omicron variant continues to affect holiday travel, with thousands of flights canceled worldwide during one of the busiest travel seasons of the year.

More than 2,300 flights were canceled Monday as COVID-19 cases surged across the globe. Among those, more than 800 had at least one stop in the U.S. Another 3,000 flights were delayed, according to CNN.

Globally, more than 6,000 flights were canceled across Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the day after Christmas. In the U.S., more than 1,200 flights were canceled, and more than 5,000 flights were delayed on Sunday alone.

About 12% of JetBlue flights were canceled on Sunday, as well as 6% of Delta Air Lines flights, 5% of United Airlines flights, 2% of American Airlines flights, and 1% of Southwest Airlines flights.

The airlines cited the winter weather and staffing concerns due to the Omicron variant, according to The New York Times . JetBlue started the holiday season with its highest staffing levels since the beginning of the pandemic, a spokesman told the newspaper, but the airline has "seen an increasing number of sick calls from Omicron."

A spokeswoman for United also cited "crew staffing concerns," while a Delta spokeswoman cited the Omicron variant and winter weather. A Southwest spokesman said its 68 cancellations were only due to winter weather.

Two days before Christmas, Airlines for America asked the CDC to shorten the recommended isolation period for fully vaccinated employees who test positive with a breakthrough infection. The airline trade group recommended a maximum of 5 days, rather than 10 days of isolation.

"That workforce is essential to enable Americans who need to travel domestically or internationally and to keep cargo supply chains operational," the group wrote in a letter.

But flight attendants' unions have said that recommended isolation times should be decided by "public health professionals, not airlines," the Times reported.

Airlines also expect many passengers around the New Year's holiday and Jan. 2 as people return home from holiday travel. Experts will watch the numbers as Omicron cases continue to climb in the U.S. and worldwide.

"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," Derek Dombrowski, a JetBlue spokesman, told the newspaper.


CNN: "Travel nightmare: Another 2,000 flights canceled Monday."

The New York Times: "Thousands of flights are canceled as Omicron scrambles air travel."

Airlines for America: Letter to the CDC, Dec. 23, 2021.


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