Thousands of Christmas Day flights have been canceled as surging cases of the Omicron COVID-19 variant impacted plane crews and other workers.
In the U.S., United Airlines and Delta Air Lines have canceled or delayed hundreds of flights, with Omicron cases among flight crews being cited as a main reason behind the decision.
On Christmas Day at the time of writing, United has cancelled 238 flights, Delta 282, American Airlines 88, and JetBlue 120. Spirit and Southwest are faring better with only 8 and 1 cancellation respectively, but all have experienced delays.
There have been 2,460 flight cancelations and 3,583 delays across the world on Christmas Day, according to FlightAware at the time of writing.
United said on Thursday: « The nationwide spike in Omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation. As a result, we’ve unfortunately had to cancel some flights and are notifying impacted customers in advance of them coming to the airport. »
Delta said: « 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. We apologize to our customers for the delay in their holiday travel plans. Delta people are working hard to get them to where they need to be as quickly and as safely as possible on the next available flight. »
According to data collected by the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), Omicron has quickly overtaken Delta to become the dominant COVID-19 strain.
In the CDC’s Region 2, which encompasses New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Omicron makes up 92 percent of cases. However, in Region 7, which includes Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska, Delta is the dominant variant with only 30.6 percent being Omicron cases.
As of the latest data from December 18, an estimated 73.2 percent of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. are of the Omicron variant. In total since the pandemic began the U.S. has logged 51.5 million COVID cases, and suffered 809,000 deaths.
University of Texas at Austin researchers said in a recent study that the « milder Omicron surge » is likely to peak in mid-January.
Amid the surge in cases, the CDC continues to recommend wearing a mask in public indoor settings or high community transmission, regardless of vaccination status.
The surge in cases led many Americans to take tests to see whether they had been infected, in a bid to stop spreading the virus among their family.
In New York City, where the variant has rapidly spread, people were seen waiting in long lines in order to get tested as a precaution before traveling to see their family over the festive season.
Brianna Sultan and her daughter Ava, 8, spent part of Christmas Eve in one of the long lines in order to get tested following reports of an infection at school.
Speaking to AP after waiting two hours in line, Sultan said: « It’s a terrible way to be spending Christmas Eve. It’s terrible that we can’t see our families because this COVID strain is coming back up again. »
Newsweek has contacted United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines for comment.