Airlines cancelled over 2,000 flights worldwide on Friday, about a quarter of them in the United States, as the Omicron variant of Covid-19 continued to disrupt holiday travel, Belga news agency reports.
By 4.40 p.m. Brussels time on Christmas Eve, there were at least 2,116 flight cancellations, according to the FlightAware website. These included 499 domestic and international flights within, to or from the United States. On Thursday, 2,231 flights were scrapped, according to FlightAware, Belga reports.
Airlines contacted by French news agency AFP cited the current wave of the pandemic, which has been affecting crews, as one of the main reasons for the cancellations.
According to FlightAware, United Airlines cancelled over 170 flights – 9% of those that had been scheduled – on Friday. “The airline has cited a rising number of COVID-19 cases as the reason, explaining crew availability has been strained by staff calling in sick,” FlightAware reported. It said United had assured the public that it was striving to find flights for the affected passengers.
Another major carrier, Delta Air, cancelled 145 flights, citing both Omicron and in some cases, adverse weather conditions. It said its teams exhausted all options and resources before deciding to scrap the flights.
Staff of Alaska Airlines said they might have been exposed to the virus and had to self-quarantine, prompting the company to withdraw over 10 flights.
The cancellations have come at a time when many had hoped to resume holiday travel after being grounded by the pandemic during Christmas 2020.
According to American Automobile Association estimates, over 109 million Americans had been scheduled to leave their immediate regions by plane, train or car between 23 December and 2 January, a 34% increase compared to last year.
American Airlines, for example, had scheduled 5,300 flights for Thursday, as many as the two previous days and equivalent to 86% of its flight programme for the corresponding period of 2019, the last Christmas before the pandemic.
However, most of these flights had been planned before the Omicron variant came on the scene, spreading at top speed and forcing many people to go into isolation even when asymptomatic.