United, Other Airlines Cancel Flights Due to Omicron

United Airlines, Delta, JetBlue and Allegiant were among those canceling flights scheduled to take off, the latest blow to the holiday season.

Thousands of would-be travelers received the same troubling message on Thursday: a last-minute cancellation of their Christmas Eve flight because of the recent spike of Omicron cases.

United Airlines canceled at least 131 flights scheduled to leave dozens of airports on Friday — along with 28 more that were supposed to take off on Saturday, according to Flight Aware. Other airlines, including Delta, JetBlue and Allegiant, did the same.

In Australia, hundreds of flights were also canceled at airports in the major cities of Sydney and Melbourne as coronavirus cases in the country surged to their highest since the start of the pandemic.

The number of cancellations globally as of Thursday evening into Friday morning added up to more than 1,500 as of Thursday evening, the website showed.

It was the latest blow to the holiday season caused by the new and highly transmissible Omicron variant, which now accounts for more than 70 percent of new coronavirus cases in the United States. Nearly 170,000 people are testing positive every day in the country, a 38 percent increase over the last two weeks, according to The New York Times’s coronavirus tracker.

In its statement, United said that Omicron’s “direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation” led to the cancellations. Crew members had been calling in sick, according to spokesman Joshua Freed, who said that United alerted customers as soon as it could. And while Mr. Freed said he doesn’t expect the airline it cancel more flights, it remained a possibility.

“We are really managing this day by day,” he said. “There may be some more flight cancellations for Saturday. It’s possible.”

Dozens of customers took to social media to air their grievances about the last-minute cancellations, including John Ferris who tweeted: “You’ve got be kidding me. And there are apparently no available flights for days. Ba humbug.”

In its statement, the airline said it is working to rebook as many people as possible in time for the holidays.

In Australia, which has recorded more than 500 Omicron cases, many airline staff members are unable to work after being identified as close contacts of positive coronavirus cases, airline officials said. Under government requirements, they are required to isolate until they receive a negative coronavirus test, a process that usually takes at least 12 hours.

“A large number of our frontline team members are being required to test and isolate as close contacts given the increasing number of cases in the general community,” a spokesperson for Jetstar Airways said by email on Friday afternoon local time. “As a result, we have had to make some late adjustments to our schedule.”

Eighty flights arriving at and departing on Dec. 24 from Sydney, the country’s most populous city, had been canceled, a spokesman for the airport said, out of a total 500.

According to Melbourne Airport’s flight-tracking website, more than 70 flights departing or arriving from the airport on Dec. 24 had also been scrapped, out of 700 flights. Brisbane Airport also said that 45 flights had been canceled.

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