On Monday, The Daily Wire’s “Morning Wire” podcast revealed that in wake of massive absences due to COVID-19, major airlines such as United and Spirit Airlines are reportedly offering employees more pay to help cover shifts for colleagues out of commission due to the illness. In a memo obtained by The Daily Wire, United specifically cited Omicron as having caused a “significant” increase in pilot illness, making the higher pay necessary to keep flights on track. Despite the airline industry being heavily vaccinated, the Omicron variant has caused an uptick in COVID-19 absences.
As the Morning Wire reported, more than 4,000 flights were canceled just this past weekend. While a massive storm in Chicago was partly to blame, it appears the main driver has been amongst pilots.
United Airlines’ CEO Scott Kirby had previously stated that the company had been forced to fire “just six of its 13,000-strong pilot group” who did not get the vaccine despite a company mandate.
Business Insider reported:
…Kirby said about 200 employees were terminated because they failed to get the COVID-19 vaccine, six of which were pilots, reported Reuters. Moreover, 80 pilots who received a medical or religious exemption were put on unpaid leave.
The firings represent less than 1% of the company’s 67,000-employee workforce, with most employees choosing to get the shot before the September 27 deadline.
Likewise, Delta has bragged that more than 90% of its 80,000 employees are vaccinated. Yet, a Delta memo recently acknowledged that when it comes to “confirmed Omicron cases, including those among airline workers, the majority are occurring in fully-vaccinated individuals,” according to the Morning Wire’s Georgia Howe.
“Not only is omicron making more vaccinated employees sick vs. the unvaccinated, but putting those unvaccinated employees on the street without pay means the airline doesn’t have much wiggle room when their schedules start to fall apart,” Jason Kunisch, co-founder of U.S. Freedom Flyers and a pilot for a major airline told the Morning Wire.
As The Daily Wire’s John Bickley observed, COVID-19 was called the “pandemic of the unvaccinated” just a short while ago but that term may now be obsolete given the latest news.
One of the more long-lasting ramifications of the pandemic, according to a report from “Airlines for America,” has been an increase in the use of technology in the airport.
“COVID-19 has brought about an acceleration of digital competency across demographic cohorts,” the report noted. “We have a lot of different people who fly through the airport. We are constantly thinking about the experience we present to them. And if people have become more technology savvy, more digitally competent, that means we can accelerate and roll out the contactless passenger journey across many platforms — and there will be an acceptance of and a desire for them.”
For now, though, the industry’s only recourse might be to offer more pay to those who can work, such as Spirit Airlines offering flight attendants double pay to pick up extra flights this January.