At least three major airlines have reported canceling dozens of flights as illnesses largely linked to the omicron variant of COVID-19 negatively impact flight crew numbers during peak vacation travel season.
Germany-based Lufthansa said on Friday it was canceling a dozen long-haul transatlantic flights over the Christmas holiday period due to a “massive increase” in sick leave for pilots.
The cancellations of flights to Houston, Boston and Washington come despite a “big buffer” of additional staff for the period.
The airline said it could not speculate on responsibility for COVID-19 infections or quarantines because it was unaware of the type of illness. Passengers were booked on other flights.
Lufthansa said in a statement that “we have provided a very large buffer for the holiday period. But this was not enough due to the high rate of people calling sick. “
In the United States, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines have said they had to cancel dozens of Christmas Eve flights due to omicron-related understaffing.
“The nationwide spike in omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operations,” United said in a statement to multiple news outlets.
“As a result, we have unfortunately had to cancel some flights and notify affected customers in advance of their arrival at the airport.”
The airline said it was canceling more than 100 flights and was working to book as many people as possible.
Delta said it canceled about 90 flights on Friday due to the possibility of bad weather and the impact of the omicron after “exhausting all options and resources – including rerouting and substitutions of planes and crews to cover scheduled flights “.
He said in a statement to several outlets that he was trying to get passengers to their destinations quickly.
The cancellations come as coronavirus cases triggered by the new variant further reduce staff at hospitals, police departments, supermarkets and other critical operations struggling to maintain a full contingent of frontline workers.
Countries like Spain and the UK have reduced the length of COVID-19 quarantines to alleviate staff shortages by allowing people to return to work sooner after testing positive or exposed to the virus.
Delta CEO Ed Bastian was among those who called on the Biden administration to take similar action or risk further disruption to air travel.