US airlines canceled hundreds of flights for a third day in a row on Sunday, as surging Covid-19 infections due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant grounded crews.
Tens of thousands of Christmas weekend travelers had to change their plans.
Commercial airlines canceled 656 flights within, into or out of the US on Sunday, slightly down from nearly 1,000 from Christmas Day and nearly 700 on Christmas Eve, according to the flight-tracking website FlightAware.com.
The Christmas holidays are typically a peak time for air travel, but the rapid spread of the Omicron variant has led to a sharp increase in Covid infections, forcing airlines to cancel flights with pilots and crew needing to be quarantined.
Delta Air Lines expected more than 300 of its flights to be canceled on Sunday.
“Winter weather in portions of the US and the Omicron variant continued to impact Delta’s holiday weekend flight schedule,” a spokesperson said, adding that the company was working to “reroute and substitute aircraft and crews to get customers where they need to be as quickly and safely as possible.”
US spike in Omicron impacts 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,” said a United Airlines memo obtained by CNN.
United canceled 201 flights on Friday, representing 10% of its total schedule, and 238 flights on Saturday, representing 12% of its schedule, according to flight-tracking site FlightAware.
United said it is “notifying impacted customers in advance of them coming to the airport,” according to a company statement. “We’re sorry for the disruption and are working hard to rebook as many people as possible and get them on their way for the holidays.”
Globally, FlightAware data showed that nearly 2,150 flights were called off on Sunday and another 5,798 were delayed, as of 9.40am ET. China Eastern has canceled 474 flights, or 22% of its operation, according to FlightAware. Similarly, Air China canceled about 190 flights, or 15% of its schedule. Air India, Shenzhen Airlines, Lion Air and Wings Air all canceled dozens of flights as well.
Omicron: 60% of Americans will be infected by March, study says
Omicron was first detected in November and now accounts for nearly three-quarters of US cases and as many as 90% in some areas, such as the eastern seaboard. The average number of new US cases has risen 45% to 179,000 per day over the past week, according to a Reuters tally.
While recent research suggests Omicron produces milder illness and a lower rate of hospitalizations than previous variants of Covid-19, health officials have maintained a cautious note about the outlook.
United States health experts anticipate that the Omicron variant will infect 60% of Americans within the first three months of 2022.
Researchers from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington expect the heavily mutated variant to result in 140 million cases between January and March, most of which they believe will be mild or asymptomatic cases.
The team’s prediction model suggests that the US could see as many as 2.8 million new cases a day by January.
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