WASHINGTON (Dispatches) – Most U.S. airlines canceled most of flights on Christmas Eve amid a surge in COVID-19 infections driven by the Omicron variant, but millions of Americans carried on with travel plans through a second pandemic-clouded holiday season.
At least 5,000 cancellations are expected during December 23-25, according to Flight Aware, a website that tracks flight data.
U.S.-based Delta canceled 138 flights and United Airlines canceled 170 flights, data from the website FlightAware showed as of 9:22 a.m. Eastern Time (1422 GMT). More than 2,000 flights globally were scrapped, with 448 cancellations within, into, or out of the United States.
Germany-based Lufthansa said Friday that it was canceling a dozen long-haul transatlantic flights over the Christmas holiday period because of a “massive rise” in sick leave among pilots. The cancellations on flights to Houston, Boston and Washington come despite a “large buffer” of additional staff for the period.
The airline says it couldn’t speculate on whether COVID-19 infections or quarantines were responsible because it was not informed about the sort of illness. Passengers were booked on other flights.
“The nationwide spike in omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation,” United said in a statement. “As a result, we’ve unfortunately had to cancel some flights and are notifying impacted customers in advance of them coming to the airport.”
The cancellations come as coronavirus infections fueled by the new variant further squeeze staffing at hospitals, police departments, supermarkets and other critical operations struggling to maintain a full contingent of front-line workers.
To ease staffing shortages, countries including Spain and the U.K. have reduced the length of COVID-19 quarantines by letting people return to work sooner after testing positive or being exposed to the virus.
The average number of new COVID infections has risen 37% to 165,000 per day over the past week, according to a Reuters tally.
Daily totals of deaths and hospitalizations, considered lagging indicators, were little changed nationwide over the past seven days, but have jumped 55% and 28%, respectively, over the course of December.