The global aviation sector is still suffering from the contagious Omicron variant, with nearly 4,600 flights cancellations globally.
Airlines have canceled more than 5,300 U.S. flights this weekend, due to the rapid spread of the mutated Covid-19 variant, as well as bad weather conditions.
According to FlightAware, on New Year’s Day the United States cancelled 2,749 flights, which represent almost half of the global cancellations. International carriers such as China Eastern and Air China have also eliminated several flights, totaling 500 and 200 cancellations respectively.
Last weekend, Southwest was the most affected US airline, which grounded 450 domestic flights (13% of the total schedule), says FlightAware. American Airlines and Delta Air Lines also cancelled over 200 flights each, while United Airlines cancelled more than 150. Regional carrier SkyWest scrubbed 480 flights – over 25% of its total – blaming bad weather in Chicago, Denver, and Detroit and the surge of Covid-19 infections.
In Chicago, O’Hare Airport and Midway Airport reduced their schedule due to a winter storm, cancelling 800 and 250 flights respectively.
The US numbers represent the highest toll since airlines began to suffer from personnel shortages due to increased coronavirus infections among their staff. Just before Christmas, the United States cancelled about 1,700 flights within, into or out of the country as crew members had to be quarantined after coming in contact with infected people.
US airports have cancelled over 15,000 since December 24. Airlines are working on strategies to improve their operations. For instance, United is offering to triple the usual wages of pilots who pick up open flights throughout January. Similarly, Spirit Airlines has worked on a deal with the Association of Flight Attendants for double pay for crew members.
The travel complications come in a moment when airlines were expected to be recording the busiest days since the beginning of the pandemic. In 2021, the Transportation Security Administration screened around 580 million passengers, up 79% from the previous year but still off about 30% from 2019 before the pandemic.
In late December, Delta Air Lines and JetBlue executives and the U.S. airline industry group that represents most major carriers urged the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to reduce the recommended quarantine time, saying 10 days of isolation would lead to staffing shortages. In response to this request, the CDC has recently loosened its quarantine guidelines, allowing individuals who contracted Covid-19 to remain in isolation for five days (the quarantine period was previously 10 days).