American Airlines cancellations pile up as omicron hampers vacation travel

Pilots calling in sick are forcing American Airlines to cancel more than 180 flights on Monday as the travel industry feels pressure from the spread of the omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus.

As Delta, United and JetBlue continue to feel the worst consequences from the wave of holiday weekend cancellations, Fort Worth-based American has seen a growing number of flight cancellations and delays spread across the country. both with its main and regional carriers.

Nationwide, airlines canceled nearly 1,000 flights on Monday, although reported weather and technology issues add further complications for Southwest Airlines and Dallas-based regional carrier SkyWest. This was after more than 1,500 cancellations across the country.

“The coronavirus moves through aircrews as it moves through the general population,” airline analyst Helane Becker said in a note with Cowen. “Flight cancellations over the weekend totaled 3,200 flights, and there are another 1,000 canceled flights so far today.”

Cancellations come as airports face further surge in travel with over 2 million passengers passing through TSA checkpoints on Sunday and more than 34 million expected during the holiday season.

American Airlines escaped the problems that plagued Delta and United leading up to Christmas as those airlines ruled out hundreds of flights due to a lack of pilots and flight attendants, causing problems for thousands of passengers in the hope to connect with their family for the holidays.

An American Airlines spokesperson said on Sunday the airline was preemptively canceling flights due to “a number of COVID-related illness calls.”

“We proactively notified affected customers yesterday and are working hard to re-let them quickly,” American Airlines spokesman Derek Walls said. “We never want to disappoint our customers and apologize for any disruption to their vacation travel plans. “

But American began to see sick calls increasing on Christmas Day from pilots, said Dennis Tajer, spokesperson for the Association of Flight Attendants. Those calls increased on Sunday and Monday, with around 170 flights canceled in the past two days.

American cancellations are spread across the country, Tajer said, and operational challenges don’t appear to be the root cause of the kind of snowball failures that crippled airlines in the fall and summer.

DFW International Airport, America’s largest hub, had 32 cancellations on Monday, according to Flightaware.com.

CDC reports biggest spike in new COVID-19 cases since January and White House medical adviser Anthony Fauci told MSNBC on Monday that the United States should even consider a vaccine requirement for domestic travel.

“Omicron is very different” Fauci told MSNBC. “He has an extraordinary capacity for person-to-person transmission. “

Airlines like American have worked for more than 20 months to keep pilots healthy and able to work during the COVID-19 pandemic. The FAA is calling for a 10-day quarantine after pilots tested positive for the coronavirus or came into contact with someone who tested positive.

These types of requirements, along with seasonal colds and flu, limit the availability of crews across the country. Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines last week asked the FAA to reduce the quarantine to five days.

Tajer said American Airlines pilots might be skeptical of working if they show signs of illness, especially because COVID-19 tests are difficult to find in some parts of the country.

Southwest Airlines had around 50 cancellations on Monday, according to Flightaware.com, but the carrier attributed all of its operational challenges to snow and weather issues in the western United States.


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