Christmas is Cancelled: Omicron Prompts Airlines to Call Off Thousands of Flights
22:41 GMT 24.12.2021 (Updated: 04:02 GMT 25.12.2021)
The spread of the Omicron variant has sparked a mass of flight cancellations and delays just as holiday travel peaks. Thousands of flights were cancelled on Thursday and Friday, with further delays and cancellations expected on Saturday and Sunday.
The spread of the highly-contagious Omicron variant has left airlines scrambling, as staff are forced to call out sick or quarantine. From Thursday, December 23rd, to Sunday, December 26th, 6,267 flights have been cancelled globally - 1,328 of which occurred in the United States, according to Flightaware.com
The string of cancellations has resulted in a rash of additional delays. Over the same time period, 25,029 flights have been delayed worldwide, with 7,677 in the United States alone. While delays and cancellations are an occupational hazard in the airline industry, crews suffering from the Omicron variant and mandated quarantine periods have seen those numbers tick up well beyond normal levels.
A United Airlines spokesperson said in a statement: "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 Airlines said it "exhausted all options and resources" to try and get its customers to their destination on time, but was still forced to cancel 150 flights on Friday, December 24th.
While some passengers became irate over the cancellations and subsequent delays, it is the airlines who are forced to pay the financial toll. According to the US Federal Aviation Administration, flight delays annually cost airlines an estimated $22 billion.
The disruption caused by Omicron has airlines turning to the federal government to roll back COVID isolation rules, as they did for healthcare workers on Thursday.
The disruption has been compounded by the holiday travel season that was said by some to be approaching pre-pandemic levels.
Robert Sinclair, a senior manager of public affairs at AAA Northeast, said: "We're 27% ahead of where we were last year", adding, "people have more confidence with the vaccines and the boosters".
As of Friday, there are 1,387 flight cancellations for December 25th, and 337 for December 26th globally, a significant step back from the 2,732 flight cancellations on December 23rd and 2,311 on December 24th.