Airlines Grapple with Omicron-Related Disruptions to Start 2022
More than 3,000 flights were canceled around the world on Sunday, more than half of them U.S. flights, adding to the toll of holiday week travel disruptions due to adverse weather and the surge in coronavirus cases caused by the omicron variant.
Over 3,300 flights had been canceled by noon GMT on Sunday, including over 1,900 entering, departing from or within the United States, according to a running tally on the tracking website FlightAware.com. Including those delayed but not canceled, more than 4,800 flights were delayed in total.
The Christmas and New Year holidays are typically a peak time for air travel, but the rapid spread of the highly transmissible omicron variant has led to a sharp increase in COVID-19 infections, forcing airlines to cancel flights as pilots and crew quarantine.
Transportation agencies across the United States were also suspending or reducing services due to coronavirus-related staff shortages.
Omicron has brought record case counts and dampened New Year festivities around much of the world.
The rise in U.S. COVID-19 cases had caused some companies to change plans to increase the number of employees working from their offices Monday.
Chevron Corp was to start a full return to office from Jan. 3 but told employees in late December it was postponing the move indefinitely.
U.S. authorities registered at least 346,869 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, according to a Reuters tally. The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 rose by at least 377 to 828,562.
U.S. airline cabin crew, pilots and support staff were reluctant to work overtime during the holiday travel season, despite offers of hefty financial incentives. Many workers feared contracting COVID-19 and did not welcome the prospect of dealing with unruly passengers, some airline unions said.
In the months preceding the holidays, airlines were wooing employees to ensure solid staffing, after furloughing or laying off thousands over the last 18 months as the pandemic hobbled the industry.