U.S. Airlines Cancel Flights Over Christmas Due to COVID-Prompted Personnel Shortages

U.S. airlines have canceled hundreds of domestic flights over Christmas weekend, citing personnel shortages as COVID-19 infections soar across the country.

At least 867 flights were canceled across the U.S. on Christmas Day, after airlines canceled more than 600 flights the day before, according to real-time flight tracking data from FlightAware. Of those, Delta canceled at least 282 flights, United listed 238, Jet Blue canceled 120, and American Airlines canceled 88.

On Christmas Eve, FlightAware tracked at least 689 cancelations, with United reporting 201, while Delta had 173 and JetBlue had 80.

« The nationwide spike in Omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation, » a United Airlines spokesperson said in a statement. « As a result, we’ve unfortunately had to cancel some flights and are notifying impacted customers in advance of them coming to the airport. »

A spokesperson for Delta added that « teams have exhausted all options and resources — including rerouting and substitutions of aircraft and crews to cover scheduled flying, » while apologizing for the delay in holiday travel plans.

The cancelations come as coronavirus cases have spiked in recent days due to the rapidly spreading Omicron variant. The U.S. is now reporting over 179,000 cases a day, marking a 45 percent increase this week, Reuters reported. The country hasn’t seen this many new daily cases since a surge in February.

The latest variant, which was first detected in South Africa in November, has now spread to every U.S. state. Omicron has since fueled record-breaking daily cases across New York and at least nine other states and has caused a flurry of mask mandates and event cancelations throughout the country.

In some parts of the U.S., Omicron now accounts for more than 90 percent of new daily cases, surpassing the Delta variant to become the most dominant coronavirus strain.

Travelers wait in line to check-in at LaGuardia Airport in New York, on December 24, 2021, as hundreds of U.S. flights are canceled due to the spread of COVID-19.
YUKI IWAMURA/AFP/Getty Images

The disruptive rise in new cases is being felt globally, too. In London, one in 20 people were infected with COVID-19 last week, and health care experts have warned that number could soon rise to one in 10, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, France broke records on Friday for new daily infections, while hospitalizations reached a seven-month high.

A total of 2,498 flights were canceled around the world on Christmas Day – largely due to coronavirus staffing shortages – while thousands more were delayed, FlightAware reported. The cancelations have come as the U.S. Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) said the number of travelers screened at airports this season is expected to reach pre-pandemic levels.

To avoid further spreading the coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that travelers be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, along with wearing a mask in public indoor settings or in places with high community transmission.

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