U.S. airways scrap almost 1,000 Christmas Day flights attributable to Omicron By Reuters

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Travelers line up during the Christmas season as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus threatens to increase the number of cases at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia, the United States, Dec. 22, 2021. REUTERS / Elijah Nouvelage

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By Humeyra Pamuk and Joel Schectman

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. airlines suspended nearly 1,000 flights on Saturday, the second straight day of massive cancellations as rising COVID-19 infections sidelined some pilots and other crew members and plans for tens of thousands of vacationers over the Christmas weekend have ruined.

A total of 957 flights, including domestic flights and flights to and from the country, were canceled on Christmas Day, up from 690 on Christmas Eve, according to an ongoing review by flight tracking website FlightAware.com. Almost 2,000 flights were delayed.

At least one airline said it expected hundreds more cancellations on Sunday.

The Christmas holidays are usually a peak time for air travel, but the rapid spread of the highly transmissible variant of Omicron has resulted in a surge in COVID-19 infections, forcing airlines to cancel flights due to the quarantine of pilots and crew.

United Airlines has canceled 230 flights while American Airlines (NASDAQ 🙂 canceled 90 flights, company representatives said in separate statements.

“This week’s nationwide surge in Omicron cases has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operations,” said United spokeswoman Maddie King. She said the cancellations made up a small fraction of United’s average of 4,000 daily flights during the holiday season.

“We’re working hard to rebook as many people as possible and get them off for the vacation,” she said.

Winter weather and Omicron forced Delta Air Lines (NYSE 🙂 to clean 344 flights from approximately 3,000 scheduled flights on Saturday “after exhausting all options and resources to prevent these cancellations,” a company spokesman said, adding that the Impact is expected to persist on Sunday.

“Delta expects that on Sunday, December 26th, more than 300 of its flights will be canceled,” said the spokesman. “Delta employees work together around the clock to divert and replace aircraft and crews to get customers where they need to be as quickly and safely as possible.”

Globally, FlightAware data showed that just over 2,700 flights were canceled and an additional 7,049 delayed at 5:30 p.m. EST (2230 GMT) on Saturday.

The US airports hardest hit included Hartsfield-Jackson International in Atlanta, Newark Liberty International in New Jersey, Los Angeles International and JFK International in New York. Six of the ten airports around the world hit hardest by the cancellations were Chinese.

Not all airlines were affected equally. A Southwest Airlines (NYSE 🙂 spokesman said there were no problems with the airline’s flights on Saturday.

The Omicron variant was first discovered in November and now accounts for almost three-quarters of US cases, in some areas such as the east coast as much as 90%.

The average number of new U.S. coronavirus cases rose 45% to 179,000 per day over the past week, according to a Reuters tally.

While recent research suggests Omicron causes milder illness and a lower hospitalization rate than previous variants of COVID-19, health officials have been cautious about the outlook.

Before the Christmas break, Americans battled over COVID-19 tests and many continued their travel plans.

US officials have said people who are fully vaccinated should be comfortable traveling on vacation.

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