The flight disruptions in the United States continued on Monday as many people began their first trips in nearly two years, and Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease expert, reiterated the possibility of vaccination requirements for air travel.
At least 2,600 other flights were canceled on Monday, including around 1,000 US flights, as the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the coronavirus is driving daily case numbers in parts of the United States above last winter’s pandemic peak.
While cancellations made up only a small percentage of total flights, the problem threatened to spread into the holiday week.
“Making vaccination compulsory is another incentive to get more people vaccinated,” said Dr. Fauci on Monday on MSNBC. “If you want to do that with domestic flights, I think you should seriously consider it.”
Over the holiday weekend, airlines canceled thousands of flights when the Omicron variant hit flight crews. A total of around 2,300 US flights were canceled on Saturday and Sunday of the Christmas weekend, more than 3,500 more worldwide, according to FlightAware, which provides aviation data. More than 1,300 US flights and nearly 1,700 more worldwide were canceled on Sunday alone.
While some of the flight bans were caused by bad weather and maintenance issues, several airlines admitted that the current wave of coronavirus cases had contributed significantly. A JetBlue spokesman said the airline had “seen an increasing number of sick reports from Omicron.”
According to FlightAware, twelve percent of JetBlue flights, 6 percent of Delta Air Lines flights, 5 percent of United Airlines flights and 2 percent of American Airlines flights were canceled on Sunday.
The share prices of United, Delta, American and Southwest – the four largest US airlines – were a little lower on Monday.
Travel has recovered strongly this year, which has made the situation at airports worse: In the past week and on Sunday, around two million people passed the checkpoints every day, according to the Transportation Security Administration. The numbers on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day were much higher than last year, and some numbers even exceeded those of the same days two years ago, when virtually no Americans were aware of a virus that was beginning to circulate halfway around the world.
The Omicron variant, which is now responsible for more than 70 percent of new coronavirus cases in the US, has already helped raise the daily average in the US to over 200,000 for the first time in almost 12 months, according to The New York The Times coronavirus tracker.
An airline trade group has asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to reduce the recommended isolation time for fully vaccinated employees who test positive from 10 days to a maximum of five days before they can return with a negative test.
“Quick and safe adjustments through the CDC would ease at least some of the staffing pressure and set up airlines to help millions of travelers returning from their vacation,” said Derek Dombrowski, a JetBlue spokesman.
However, the flight attendants union has argued that reducing recommended isolation times should be decided by “public health professionals, not airlines”.
Some of the delays this weekend had little to do with the pandemic. Alaska Airlines has had few cancellations related to crew exposure to the coronavirus, said a spokeswoman, Alexa Rudin. According to FlightAware, 170 flights were canceled on those two days, including 21 percent of Sunday flights, due to unusually cold and snowy weather in the Pacific Northwest affecting its hub, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
The pandemic has also led to a nationwide shortage of train and bus personnel. In New York City, too, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has to contend with positive cases with an increase in its staff, 80 percent of whom are vaccinated. It was said that the subway would run on Monday, with a few exceptions, according to a normal schedule.
“Anything we as passengers can do to minimize the risk to transit workers will help reduce the spread,” said Lisa Daglian, executive director of the MTA’s Standing Advisory Committee on Citizens, a monitoring group. “The MTA does what it can with the resources available.”
Danny Pearlstein, a spokesman for the Riders Alliance, an advocacy group, said, “In my opinion, the MTA is once again making the best of a bad situation.”