More flights canceled as weather combines with staff shortages caused by Omicron

Flight cancellations in the United States continued on Monday as inclement weather combined with airline staff shortages caused by Covid-19 that marred Christmas weekend for many travelers.

Airlines cleaned up nearly 1,300 flights on Monday, according to data tracker FlightAware, which expects around 260 flights to be canceled on Tuesday. Monday’s cancellations were down slightly from the weekend, with delays being about half of Sunday’s levels, FlightAware said.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday reduced the number of days it recommends people isolate after being infected with Covid-19 to five from 10 previously, reflecting recent research, new ideas from pandemic management and stress on some industries like the Omicron variant has made workers sick. Carriers including Delta Air Lines Inc.

DAL -0.76%

requested that the recommended isolation period for fully immunized people be shortened in order to alleviate staffing issues.

“The updated guidelines allow Delta more flexibility to schedule crews and employees to support a busy vacation travel season and a sustained return to customer travel,” said the airline, having been one of the hardest hit over a weekend when carriers canceled more than 3,000 flights.

Delta said it expected more than 200 cancellations on Monday, around 5% of its schedule, due to staff and weather issues.

Airlines struggled earlier this year to balance high customer demand with a tight staff, and prepared for the holiday travel season by offering incentive pay and tune-up schedules. Although airlines have planned a busier flight schedule ahead of the late December vacation, more pilots and other staff have become ill as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus has increased infections, officials said. from the airline, contributing to cancellations over the Christmas weekend.

Cancellations and delays continued on Monday at major airline hubs in Seattle, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Denver and the three major New York area airports after carriers said Covid-19 left them understaffed to handle busy schedules for returning travelers.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport was the hardest hit after more than 2 inches of snow fell on Sunday, with more than 20% of Monday’s schedule cleared there. Alaska Air Group Inc.

ALK -0.75%

canceled nearly a quarter of its flights on Monday as planes at its main central airport were stranded on the ground, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

SkyWest Inc.,

SKYW -0.99%

the commuter carrier, which flies on behalf of four major airlines, on Monday cut 15% of its west coast-focused flights. Bad weather was the main factor, according to the carrier, but a company spokesperson also cited an increase in Covid-19 cases and isolations among staff.

United Airlines Holdings Inc.,

UAL -0.65%

Also hit hard over the weekend, said it canceled 115 flights on Monday due to staff issues at Omicron, which is less than 3% of its scheduled schedule. Including bad weather, some 4% of United’s total flights were canceled on Monday, FlightAware said, and the airline said it was also affected by a computer outage.

Passenger traffic to the United States remains nearly 20% lower than Christmas 2019. Airlines continued to book affected passengers and flights remained slightly more empty than two years ago, according to the group. commercial Airlines for America.

The Transportation Security Administration said it screened 2.07 million people on Sunday, down 19% from the same calendar day in 2019, after declines of 21% and 14% in the previous two days, respectively. Airlines capacity last week was down 12% from 2019 levels, according to data tracker OAG.

US airline stocks all ended lower, with the Dow Jones US Airlines index closing 0.8% lower.

Canceled and delayed flights, long lines and crowded planes have become the new normal for air travel. WSJ reporter Alison Sider explains the reasons for airline disruptions and the ripple effects for passengers planning to travel during the holidays. Photo: Daniel Slim / Getty Images

Write to Doug Cameron at [email protected]

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