NATIONAL NEWS

United Airlines is reducing flights amid Omicron surge

Jan 11, 2022, 5:49 PM | Updated: Jun 8, 2022, 3:22 pm
United Airlines planes sit on the runway at Newark Liberty International Airport on November 30, 20...
United Airlines planes sit on the runway at Newark Liberty International Airport on November 30, 2021 in Newark, New Jersey. The United States, and a growing list of other countries, has restricted flights from southern African countries due to the detection of the COVID-19 Omicron variant last week in South Africa. Stocks in the travel and airline industry have fallen in recent days as fears grow over the spread and severity of the variant. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

(CNN) — United Airlines said it is reducing its flight schedule in hopes of stemming Covid-related staffing shortages that have caused thousands of flight cancellations across the industry.

In a new company-wide memo, CEO Scott Kirby said the airline is “reducing our near-term schedules to make sure we have the staffing and resources to take care of customers.”

Kirby did not specify by how much the airline is drawing down flights. But the memo added that “the Omicron surge has put a strain on our operation, resulting in customer disruptions during a busy holiday season.” He went on to thank employees for their professionalism in handling the delays.

United is hardly alone in dealing with delays and canceled flights. JetBlue Airways recently reduced its schedule by about 1,280 flights, roughly 10% of its schedule, from January 6 through January 13 because a growing number of crew members were falling sick.

Airlines have been canceling hundreds of flights every day in the United States since Christmas Eve as they grapple with staff shortages due to Covid-19 infections and bad weather in parts of the country. JetBlue is based in New York City, which has been struggling with record-high numbers of positive cases.

“I also know that Omicron has affected the personal well-being of our United team. We have about 3,000 employees who are currently positive for COVID,” Kirby said in the memo. On one day at Newark, nearly a third of JetBlue’s workforce called out sick, he added.

Some 3,000 United employees currently are positive for Covid, but none of the company’s vaccinated employees are hospitalized, according to the memo. The hospitalization rate among United employees has plunged since the company’s vaccine mandate went into effect by “100 times lower than the general US population,” Kirby said.

Previously, more than one United employee per week was dying from Covid. More recently, the company has gone eight straight weeks with no deaths among its vaccinated employees, he added.

– An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the company with 3,000 sick staff members. United Airlines said about 3,000 employees are currently infected with Covid.

– Jordan Valinsky and Reuters contributed to this story.

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United Airlines is reducing flights amid Omicron surge