Omicron continues its full-on assault on air travel. There have already been thousands of canceled flights and even more delays because of the COVID-19 pandemic recently. Now, United Airlines says it will need to reduce its flight schedule further after thousands of its employees tested positive for the virus.
United CEO Scott Kirby told employees that about 4 percent of its workforce is out with COVID-19. That’s 3,000 people. The company grounded 149 flights on Tuesday, about 7 percent of its entire flight plan. It’s unclear how many flights the company will need to cancel or change to deal with the rising COVID crisis. But Kirby said United would be proactive in prioritizing the routes.
The company is the latest airline to change its flight plans because of the virus.
CNBC reported JetBlue Airways was the first to do so. Alaska Airlines did as well. American said it plans to do the same this week as infection rates continue to rise.
In his announcement, United CEO Kirby said the problem could have been much worse. He said the company’s vaccine mandate policy is working and saving lives. United began requiring employees to get the jab last summer.
“While we have about 3,000 employees who are currently positive for COVID, zero of our vaccinated employees are currently hospitalized,” he said in a note to employees. “Since our vaccine policy went into effect, the hospitalization rate among our employees has been 100x lower than the general population in the U.S. Prior to our vaccine requirement, tragically, more than one United employee on average per week was dying from COVID. But we’ve now gone eight straight weeks with zero COVID-related deaths among our vaccinated employees – based on United’s prior experience and the nationwide data related to COVID fatalities among the unvaccinated, that means there are approximately 8-10 United employees who are alive today because of our vaccine requirement.”
Flight Cancellations Still High But Declining
This weekend, airlines canceled more than 2,600 flights, according to the flight tracking site FlightAware.com. That’s 1,300 both Saturday and Sunday. That’s down from the 5,000 flights that didn’t take off on Thursday and Friday.
But this does continue an alarming trend. There have been more than 1,000 flights canceled for 15 consecutive days now, stretching back to Dec. 26, Barrons noted.
It’s been a terrible two weeks to fly, and the worst since earlier last year. In February, a winter storm slammed several major cities, especially Texas. Airlines canceled 10 percent of their scheduled flights because of that storm. It’s only the fifth time that’s ever happened. The airlines canceled 40 percent of their fights, the most ever in a single week, in 2020 at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
Industry experts said they’re hopeful now that the holiday travel season is over that the strain on airlines will lessen, giving companies time to prepare and reground before the spring rush begins.