U.S. Cancels Another 1,000 Flights Due to Snow Storms, Covid Surge
(Bloomberg) -- Flight cancellations that disrupted U.S. travel over the Christmas weekend stretched into Monday, with winter storms further pressuring carriers that were already short-staffed because of spreading Covid-19 cases.
About 1,160 U.S. flights were canceled Monday as of 4:20 p.m. New York time after more than 2,800 were dropped over the weekend, according to data from FlightAware.com. One of the hardest-hit carriers was Alaska Air Group Inc., whose operations at its main base at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport were affected by snowfall and some of the region’s coldest temperatures in years.
An omicron-fueled wave of Covid cases remains a concern, weighing on airline shares. United Airlines Holdings Inc. said it canceled about 2.9% of its scheduled flights Monday due to omicron-related staffing issues. Airlines have taken various steps to prevent infections among their crews, including a vaccine mandate at United and a monthly surcharge for unvaccinated employees at Delta Air Lines Inc. Major airlines have said most of their employees have been vaccinated.
Anthony Fauci, a top medical adviser to President Joe Biden, said earlier that a domestic-travel vaccination rule should be considered to curb the spread of the virus on airplanes. Studies have shown that people who get three doses of certain Covid-19 vaccines have protection against omicron, although breakthrough infections are becoming increasingly common. The Airlines for America lobby group said it’s been told that such a mandate isn’t coming in the near term.
An estimated 5.3 million people passed through U.S. airport security screening from Dec. 24 through Sunday, according to Transportation Security Administration data. That’s 75% more than during the equivalent period of 2020 when travel was hard-hit by the pandemic but still 30% below 2019 levels.
American Airlines Group Inc. scrapped 3% of flights on Monday according to FlightAware and said it had “nothing new to share” on cancellations. Delta, whose hubs in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Seattle and Salt Lake City were hit by storms, said it expects 200 mainline and regional flights to be parked on Monday.
“Delta people are continuing to work together around the clock to reroute and substitute aircraft and crews to get customers where they need to be as quickly and safely as possible,” the Atlanta-based airline said in a statement.
Southwest Airlines Co. said it had 67 cancellations out of 3,600 flights scheduled for Monday, and none were due to Covid-19.
Sun Country Airlines Holdings Inc. canceled all of its domestic flights before 8 a.m. Central Time on Monday because of a “temporary third-party network system outage” that required it to temporarily switch to manual processes. While the issue was resolved by midday, Sun Country said it expected delays across its system on Monday.
At Alaska Airlines, 144 flights were canceled, or about 21% of the carrier’s schedule, according to FlightAware, and another 28% were delayed. The airline grounded 196 flights on Sunday.
SkyWest Inc., which operates regional flights for United, Delta, American and Alaska, canceled 314, or 13%, of its flights Monday and an additional 24% were delayed, according to FlightAware data. The carrier said just over half of the cancellations by early afternoon were related to weather, and the rest were due to employees ill with coronavirus or in related quarantine.
The airline is “working to recover after weather impacting several hubs, as well as increased COVID cases and quarantines amongst crewmembers, have resulted in higher than normal flight cancels through the weekend and today,” St. George, Utah-based SkyWest said in a statement.
After the holidays, domestic leisure travel demand likely will slow from early January through mid-February, followed by an upturn that should last through the summer, Helane Becker, a Cowen Inc. analyst, said in a report Monday. U.S. business travel isn’t expected to return until two to four weeks after companies begin requiring employees to return to the office, she said.
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