Omicron, storms disrupt air travel for 4th consecutive day

Chicago News

Flights cancelled and delayed again Monday at O'Hare, Midway

Flight cancellations that disrupted holiday travel, stretched into Monday as airlines called off more than 1,000 U.S. flights because crews were sick with COVID-19 during one of the year’s busiest travel periods, and storm fronts added to the havoc.

Flight delays and cancellations tied to staffing shortages have been common this year. Airlines encouraged workers to quit in 2020, when air travel collapsed, and carriers have struggled to make up ground this year, when air travel rebounded faster than almost anyone had expected. The arrival of the omicron variant only exacerbated the problem.

Collectively between O’Hhare and Midway there have been just over 140 flights cancelled Monday.

Since Friday, airlines have canceled more than 4,000 flights to, from or inside the U.S., according to FlightAware, which tracks flight cancellations.

Delta, United, JetBlue and American have blamed the coronavirus for staffing problems in the past several days. European and Australian airlines also canceled holiday-season flights because of infected staff, but weather and other factors played a role as well.

Winter weather in the Pacific Northwest led to nearly 250 flight cancellations to or from Seattle on Sunday, according to Alaska Airlines, which expected more than 100 flight cancellations Monday. But the airline said sick crews were no longer a factor.

United said it canceled 115 flights Monday, out of more than 4,000 scheduled, due to crews with COVID-19. Delta expected to cancel more than 200 flights out of its schedule of over 4,100, after scrapping more than 370 on Sunday, citing the effect of COVID-19 on crews and winter weather in Minneapolis, Seattle and Salt Lake City.

SkyWest, a regional airline based in Utah, said it had more cancellations than normal during the weekend and on Monday after bad weather affected several of its hubs and many crew members were out with COVID-19.

Industry analysts said new guidance from U.S. health officials could help airlines better navigate the impact of omicron on staffing levels. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday cut in half the recommended length of time a person should isolate after getting COVID-19 to five days.

Airlines had called on the Biden administration to shorten the quarantine period to alleviate staffing issues caused by omicron, although the union for flight attendants pushed back, saying the isolation period should remain 10 days.

While speaking on MSNBC, Dr. Anthony Fauci proposed making a covid vaccination mandatory for air travel.

When you make vaccination a requirement, that’s another incentive to get more people vaccinated,” Fauci told MSNBC. “If you want to do that with domestic flights, I think that’s something that seriously should be considered.”

The Biden administration has thus far balked at imposing a vaccination requirement for domestic air travel. Two officials said Biden’s science advisers have yet to make a formal recommendation for such a requirement to the president.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said a vaccine mandate on planes could trigger a host of logistical and legal concerns.

The U.S. currently mandates that most foreign nationals traveling to the U.S. be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, though citizens and permanent residents only need to show proof of a negative test taken within a day of boarding.

Federal rules don’t require people travelling by air within the U.S. to show a negative test. Hawaii requires travelers to test or show proof of vaccination to avoid a mandatory quarantine.

Biden did not respond to questions on whether he was considering implementing a domestic air travel vaccination requirement, but he told reporters the subject was discussed on a call with the nation’s governors Monday morning.

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