Thousands of frustrated travellers hoping to fly to Christmas celebrations faced a wave of last-minute cancellations, as a spike in coronavirus cases sidelined airline workers who had contracted the virus or had been exposed to the omicron variant.
About 4,000 flights around the world scheduled for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day were scrapped, according to FlightAware, an aviation data provider — more than 1,000 of them in the United States.
The cancellations forced stranded passengers in crowded airports from Atlanta to Minneapolis to Washington, DC, to embark on frantic planes-trains-and-automobiles efforts to get where they were going.
Thursday started off well, with fewer than 300 cancellations in the United States, but in the evening, carriers began announcing problems.
Delta Air Lines, which FlightAware said cancelled about 160, or eight percent, of its flights scheduled for Friday, was exhausting “all options and resources,” including rerouting and substituting planes and crews to cover scheduled flights, said Kate Modolo, a spokesperson for the carrier. Delta expected to cancel at least 150 more flights over the weekend, she said.
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
United Airlines cancelled about 185 of its flights scheduled for Friday, said Maddie King, a spokesperson for the carrier. The main cause: crew members calling in sick. Another 120 cancellations were planned for Saturday.
Brett Snyder, who worked in the aviation industry and now blogs at the website Cranky Flier, noted that such stopgap measures were no real match for the disruptions caused by the virus.
“You can only be so prepared when omicron starts racing through your pilot corps,” Snyder said. “If your pilot has a cold, they can still fly. If a pilot gets COVID, they have to stay away for 10 days.”
Airlines for America, a trade group, on Thursday asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to shorten the recommended isolation period for employees who test positive for COVID-19 from 10 days to “no more than five days,” with a negative test to return, as the agency has done for health care workers.
Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants union, resisted the change, telling the CDC in a letter that changing protocols “should be based on science, not staffing, and they should be made by public health professionals, not airlines.”(Author: Karen Weise and Glenn Thrush)/(c.2021 The New York Times Company)