|United Airlines Holdings Inc. is canceling dozens of flights over the holiday weekend, as a surge of Covid-19 cases impacts crews, and Delta Air Lines Inc. also cited the variant as a factor behind a number of cancellations.|
At both airlines, the cancellations account for a relatively small share of planned flying.
United has canceled about 131 flights scheduled for Friday, about 7% of its planned schedule, and about 28 that were slated for Sunday, according to FlightAware, a flight tracking site.
United said it was scrubbing some flights as a proactive step in an effort to minimize last-minute disruptions, as some pilots and flight attendants won't be able to work because of Covid-19 infection or exposure.
"The nationwide spike in Omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation," United said in a statement.
A United spokeswoman said the carrier is taking steps such as using larger aircraft and rerouting pilots to cover flying.
Delta said there are multiple factors behind its decision to proactively cancel some flights in the coming days, including the impact of the Omicron variant and potential bad weather in some areas.
"Delta teams have exhausted all options and resources -- -- including rerouting and substitutions of aircraft and crews to cover scheduled flying -- -- before canceling around 90 flights for Friday," the airline said in a statement.
Airlines have said they expect this week and next to be among the busiest since before the pandemic. U.S. airports have been bustling even as restaurants, entertainment venues, and other businesses have started to feel the effects of the surging case numbers.
Other carriers have cautioned in recent days that there could be worker shortages that disrupt operations, as the Omicron variant races across the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommends that fully vaccinated people with breakthrough infections remain isolated for 10 days -- -- something that the chief executives of Delta and JetBlue Airways Corp. have asked to shorten.
Airlines for America, a trade group that represents major carriers including United, Delta and JetBlue, echoed that request in another letter Thursday.
"That workforce is essential to enable Americans who need to travel domestically or internationally and to keep cargo supply chains operational," A4A CEO Nick Calio wrote to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. "As with healthcare, police, fire and public transportation workforces, the Omicron surge may exacerbate personnel shortages and create significant disruptions to our workforce and operations."
The CDC on Thursday updated its guidance to recommend that healthcare workers with Covid-19 who don't have symptoms can return to work after seven days with a negative test and that isolation times can be further cut if there are staffing shortages. The agency specified that its new guidelines apply only to healthcare workers.
Several carriers were already dealing with labor shortages, as they restored flights this year, though United has largely avoided many of those problems.
United was among the first major U.S. companies to impose a strict vaccine mandate on its workforce. The airline has said that the most of its 67,000 U.S. employees are vaccinated, including all its customer-facing workers, while 2,000 requested exemptions for medical or religious reasons. Delta has imposed a $200 monthly surcharge for unvaccinated workers and has also said the most of its workforce is vaccinated.
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