As the new Omicron variant of COVID rages on, thousands are getting sick and unable to work. Labor shortages worsen as companies struggle to execute appropriate protocols that allow for both safety and a functional business. Flight crew comes into contact with thousands of traveling individuals everyday. Keeping this in mind, airlines are certainly struggling. Airline JetBlue is feeling the heat, as they have cut their flight schedule significantly due to crew shortages.
The airline has cancelled about 10 percent of the companies’ planned flight capacity through mid-January. As of right now, the cancellations total to nearly 1,300 flights. On Tuesday, three JetBlue department leaders wrote a note to employees. The note reads, “This past week has been one of our most difficult operating periods during the pandemic. The exponential growth in Omicron cases over just a couple of days is at a level that no one could reasonably prepare for.”
JetBlue Expects Further COVID Related Challenges
The company also notes that an expected increase of Omicron cases could further impact their staff in the coming days. As flight crews aid in getting everyone home from the holidays, many expect cases to continue to surge. “We expect the number of COVID cases in the northeast… where most of our crewmembers are based… To continue to surge for the next week or two,” a JetBlue spokesperson said in a statement. “This means there is a high likelihood of additional cancellations until case counts start to come down.”
Other US airlines have declined to provide details on any potential changes to their January schedules. JetBlue’s action signals that the airline industry is bracing for another uptick in long-term interruptions. Internationally, one Ireland-based airline Ryanair recently cut ⅓ of their planned flights for January due to Omicron concerns.
CDC Reduces Isolation Guidance
Despite the fact that JetBlue is the only US airline to announce planned cancellations, several US airlines cancelled thousands of flights last week due to crew shortages, and some weather related issues. JetBlue cancelled 173 flights on Thursday, which is about 17 percent of their planned flight schedule. The airline delayed an additional 50 flights. According to data reported by FlightAware, more than 1,000 domestic flights, as well as flights into and out of the US, have already been cancelled for Thursday.
Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shortened their previously recommended isolation time following a positive COVID test. The CDC now says that asymptomatic COVID patients are recommended to isolate for five days rather than ten. The guidance does recommend that asymptomatic patients continue to wear a mask around others for an additional five days following isolation. The change came after firms including Delta and JetBlue argued that a reduced isolation standard was necessary for vaccinated people due to the staffing challenges Omicron is causing.