Many widely foresaw that staffing shortages would cause mass flight cancellations over the holiday season at the start of November. Still, very few thought the spread of a new coronavirus variant would be the primary cause. Over four thousand flights in the United States have been canceled today and across the Christmas weekend. The number of canceled flights soars over ten thousand when flights in other countries are added to the total.
American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, and United Airlines have cited the Omicron variant as the reason behind the cancellations over the weekend. Airlines have had enough staff test positive for COVID-19 and call out that it has created significant staffing issues.
The American passenger aviation industry has proposed a potential solution to the federal government through its trade group and lobbying organization, Airlines For America. The industry wants the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to half the recommended isolation period for fully vaccinated employees in every sector to a maximum from 10 days to five days.
Derek Dombrowski, a JetBlue representative, told the New York Times, “Swift and safe adjustments by the CDC would alleviate at least some of the staffing pressures and set up airlines to help millions of travelers returning from their holidays.” Several airlines, especially American Airlines, admittedly took action in an attempt to ensure that they had sufficient staffing for the holiday season. But, it simply wasn’t enough.
The CDC implementing with Airlines for America’s recommendation could have knock-on effects. Sticking staff who could still be contagious on crowded flights crisscrossing the nation could just shift the pressure from airlines to hospitals in a few weeks. While flight delays and cancellations are incredibly frustrating for passengers, the CDC changing rules meant to protect public health because an industry lobby asked seems outright inappropriate.