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How many flights have been canceled due to weather and the Omicron covid variant this holiday season?

American, Delta, United Airlines have canceled hundreds of flights this weekend as weather and the Omicron variant lead to chaos at airports.

Update:
American, Delta, United Airlines have canceled hundreds of flights this weekend as weather and the Omicron variant lead to chaos at airports.
Anna MoneymakerAFP

On 28 December, more than three thousand flights within or to the United States were canceled. This follows a trend that has been seen all throughout the holiday season as severe weather the surge in covid-19 cases push many airlines past their breaking point.

Major snowstorms have slowed air traffic across the West which has only put more pressure on a fragile air traffic infrastructure. Adding fuel to the fire is the more contagious Omicron variant which has sickened airline workers across the country. Over a third of flights, on major airlines including American, Delta, and United Airlines have been delayed or canceled since 23 December.

Some passengers who experience unexpected issues during their travel have been compensated with a voucher worth around a hundred dollars for their next trip.  An apology e-mail sent by Delta Airlines this weekend reads "Here at Delta, you come first, which is why we want to apologize for the travel disruption you experienced during Christmas weekend. Reliability and providing excellent customer service are very important to us, and this weekend we fell short of our standards." The e-mail also promised compensation for the troubles caused.

However, for those who are still stuck in connecting airports or dealing with lost bags, speaking with a representative is next to impossible as wait times have hit three or fours hours.

Airlines advocate for shorter quarantine periods

Before Christmas, many airlines advocated for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to shorten the self-isolation period for workers who test positive for covid-19. In a letter sent by the industry group, Airlines For America, President Nicholas E. Calio said that labor shortages have already led to many issues for passenger travel and cargo movement. The group asked that the self-isolation period be reduced to no more than five days "from symptom onset for those who experience a breakthrough infection." However, what this request fails to recognize is that someone could still be sick five days after their symptoms begin. 

The CDC did update the guidance to align with the opinions of the airlines, which was met with heavy criticism. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky defended the decision by saying that "generally" people are not as able to transmit the virus after their five days pass. Sara Nelson, President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA which represents over 50,000 airline workers responded on Twitter saying the Directors remarks were a "Cold comfort for frontline workers and their families as corporations push people to come back to work." Nelson also mentioned that her organization was eager to hear from the nation's leading scientists, but "the fact that it aligns with the number of days pushed by corporate America is less than reassuring."

National Nurses United has also come out against the move arguing that just because it is good for business does not mean that it will be good for public health.

What remains unclear is when workers who do experience symptoms will be required to return to work without risking their jobs. The CDC guidelines say that the five days would begin after a person has been fever-free for 24 hours. This means that someone could be in quarantine for more than five days if their fever does not subside quickly.

What is also concerning, and not being mentioned is that the emergence of another variant is inevitable because of how unequal vaccine distribution around the world has been. So far, most signs point to Omicron being more transmissible but less virulent (meaning it leads to a less severe case of covid-19), than Delta or Alpha. However, the next variant could be both more transmissible and more virulent and the guidance could put workers at risk if the CDC is not able to adapt quickly.

Will airlines still be experiencing issues during New Year's weekend?

So far, there are no signs of the issues getting resolved. This week, the United States has surpassed daily positive cases. On 27 December, more than half a million cases were confirmed and if more workers become ill, the issues will persist.

30 December 2021

Delta Airlines

Delays and Cancellations: 30 & 31 December 2021

  • Delays: 59
  • Cancellation: 46

United Airlines

Delays and Cancellations: 30 & 31 December 2021

  • Delays: 9
  • Cancellation: 154
31 December 2021

Delta Airlines

Delays and Cancellations: 30 & 31 December 2021

  • Delays:1
  • Cancellation: 1

United Airlines

Delays and Cancellations: 30 & 31 December 2021

  • Delays:1
  • Cancellation: 61

Source: Flight Aware

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