JetBlue plans to cancel 1,280 flights between December 30 and January 13.
“We have seen a surge in the number of sick calls from Omicron,” a JetBlue spokesman said, according to The Wall Street Journal. “We entered the holiday season with the highest staffing levels we’ve had since the pandemic began and are using all resources available to cover our staffing needs.”
“This past week has been one of our most difficult operating periods during the pandemic,” three JetBlue department leaders wrote on Tuesday in a note to staff seen by CNBC. “The exponential growth in Omicron cases over just a couple of days is at a level that no one could reasonably prepare for.”
The move comes as other airlines anticipate staff shortages due to the Omicron variant of COVID-19. CNBC explained:
New York-based JetBlue and other airlines, including United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines, have canceled more than 8,000 flights since Christmas Eve, according to airline data firm FlightAware, as carriers were hit with bad weather and a surge in sick calls from crews. The disruptions cap another rocky year for travel as airlines at times struggled to ramp up flying to meet a resurgence in demand after a paltry 2020.
More than 1,100 flights were scrubbed nationwide on Thursday, according to FlightAware. JetBlue canceled 175 flights or 17% of its schedule. United, meanwhile, canceled 192 flights, or 9% of its mainline schedule, while regional airline SkyWest dropped 198, or 8%. Seattle-based Alaska Airlines canceled 95 flights, 14% of what it planned to fly.
The Omicron-driven flight cancellations also occur as airlines grapple with an economy-wide labor shortage. During recent testimony to Congress, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said that his company — which has about 130,000 workers — has already onboarded more than 16,000 employees in 2021, and will continue to seek additional talent through 2022.
“We believe this positive momentum will continue into next year, as we’ve set a target of hiring an additional 18,000 team members in 2022,” Parker explained. “Each time we add to our ranks, it’s like a dividend payment on the investment made in our team through the [payroll support program]; instead of building back from collapse, we’re growing to provide more promising careers in good-paying jobs to hard-working individuals who are the lifeblood of our nation’s economy.”
Airlines’ vaccine mandates are also a factor in flight cancellations. The Freedom Flyers — an organization of airline and transportation workers working to oppose the mandates imposed by airlines and the federal government — recently disagreed with American Airlines’ claim that a spate of cancellations in November was attributable to high winds.
“The system is stressed as it is and now we have unions coming out and gaslighting their members that if they are unvaccinated, they need counseling and education,” Freedom Flyers founding member Jason Kusinich told The Daily Wire, citing an email from the president of the American Airlines Pilots’ Union, which said unvaccinated crew members need “education and counseling.”
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