Airlines continued to cancel hundreds of flights on Christmas Day as staffing issues tied to COVID-19, delaying holiday celebrations during one of the busiest travel times of the year.
FlightAware, a flight-tracking website, noted 921 flights entering, leaving, or inside the U.S. were canceled on Saturday, an increase from 690 on Friday. Over 200 more flights were already canceled for Sunday. FlightAware does not say why flights are canceled, but several major airlines are pointing to the virus impacting not just travelers, but their staffs as well.
Delta Airlines, United Airlines, and JetBlue Airlines all said on Friday that the Omicron variant was causing staffing problems leading to flight cancellations. A United spokesperson told the Associated Press that staffing shortages were still causing cancellations and it was unclear when normal operations would return, as no one had been able to anticipate the impact the new and highly contagious mutation would have on staffing.
🗣- 🇺🇸 Nightmare Before Christmas: Airlines canceled and rescheduled hundreds of flights scheduled for Friday. 🧑🎄
United, Delta and others have canceled 450 flights and have postponed more than 460 scheduled flights due to staff cuts, allegedly due to the omicron. 👀 pic.twitter.com/H717QeJiNP
— Oleg But (@olegbut52) December 25, 2021
Flight delays and cancellations tied to staffing shortages have been a regular problem for the U.S. airline industry this year. Airlines encouraged workers to quit in 2020, when air travel collapsed, and were caught short-staffed this year as travel recovered.
— davidshepardson (@davidshepardson) December 24, 2021
According to FlightAware, the three airlines canceled more than 10% of their Saturday scheduled flights. American Airlines also canceled 90 flights Saturday, about 3% of its schedule, according to FlightAware. American spokesperson Derek Walls said the cancellations stemmed from “COVID-related sick calls” and the airline contacted customers on Friday. European and Australian airlines have also canceled holiday-season flights due to staffing problems tied to COVID.
To ease staffing shortages, countries including Spain and the U.K. have reduced the length of COVID-19 quarantines by letting people return to work sooner after testing positive or being exposed to the virus.
BREAKING: United Airlines is preemptively cancelling flights due to Omicron impacts on flight crews. 112 flights are cancelled already for Friday. pic.twitter.com/YFIe58Sd1O
— Sam Sweeney (@SweeneyABC) December 23, 2021