Airlines across the United States continued to cancel hundreds of Christmas holiday flights on Dec. 26 amid the nationwide surge in Omicron coronavirus variant cases, which has also affected employees and flight crew.
Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, American Airlines, JetBlue Airways, and Alaska Airlines all reported hundreds of canceled or delayed flights at a time when more than 109 million Americans are expected to travel 50 miles or more via plane and other forms of transportation to visit friends and family between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2.
As of Dec. 26, 189 Delta Air Lines flights were canceled and 881 were delayed, according to flight-tracking website Flight Aware. United Airlines has had 118 flight cancelations and 613 delays. JetBlue canceled 132 flights on Dec. 26, while 527 were delayed. Alaska Airlines canceled 196 flights and delayed 249.
On Dec. 25, airlines canceled a total of 957 flights, including domestic and international travel, while nearly 2,000 flights were delayed, according to the tracking website. On Dec. 24, 690 flights were scrapped.
According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), the figure of more than 109 million Americans expected to travel this holiday season represents an almost 34 percent increase from 2020. It was anticipated that a total of 27.7 million more people were set to travel in 2021 compared to 2020, bringing those numbers to pre-pandemic levels.
However, the highly transmissible Omicron variant has led to a sharp increase in COVID-19 infections, which airlines have said has directly affected employees and flight crew.
“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 from United Airlines told ABC News last week. “We’re sorry for the disruption and are working hard to rebook as many people as possible and get them on their way for the holidays.”
Delta Air Lines said in a statement that the “flight cancellations are due to a combination of issues, including but not limited to, potential inclement weather in some areas and the impact of the Omicron variant.”
On top of increasing infections among airline staff, some major carriers have seen employees terminated in recent weeks due to COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
Last week, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said the Omicron variant accounted for more than 90 percent of COVID-19 cases in the South, Midwest, eastern Atlantic, and northern Pacific regions of the United States.
However, preliminary data thus far suggest that the Omicron variant is less severe than previous variants and causes far fewer hospitalizations.
Dr. Anthony Fauci told ABC’s “This Week” on Dec. 26 that the last weekly average was about 150,000 cases.
“We don’t want to get complacent,” Fauci said. “When you have such a high volume of new infections, it might override a real diminution in severity.”