United Airlines cancels flights after 3,000 employees test positive for Covid
United Airlines is canceling more flights after thousands of company employees report being sick with the coronavirus.
According to a memo from the airline’s CEO, Scott Kirby, around 3,000 UA employees have recently tested positive for Covid-19, including nearly a third of workers at Newark Liberty International Airport – a gateway to important entry to New York.
“The Omicron surge has strained our operations, causing disruption for customers during a busy holiday period,” Kirby wrote. As a result, he said, flights should be halted.
“While we strive to avoid canceling flights, we have endeavored to anticipate the impact by acting early to cancel flights if necessary and by notifying affected customers before they arrive at the airport,” said said the CEO. “We are also reducing our short-term hours to ensure we have the staff and resources to take care of customers.”
Covid infections have skyrocketed in the United States, where more than 760,000 cases are currently being reported per day. Studies have shown that the highly contagious new variant of Omicron, which is causing the outbreak, causes fewer deaths and hospitalizations than previous strains – but workers should still stay home if they are tested positive.
Hence the labor shortage at United and other airlines. Delta Air Lines complained of “significant disruption” from Omicron, and JetBlue said it was facing “record sick calls”.
The result was a wave of cancellations. Since Christmas, more than 29,000 US flights have been canceled across the industry, according to The New York Times. Stormy winter weather has also caused travel to be reduced or delayed.
In addition to disruption to customers, Mr Kirby noted in his memo that “Omicron has affected the personal well-being of our United team”.
“To those who are sick or in isolation, we wish you a speedy recovery,” the CEO said.
The “good news,” he said, is that United’s vaccine mandate is working. Even though thousands of airline employees have tested positive for Covid, the CEO said, none of them are currently hospitalized and none have died from the virus in the past eight weeks.
“When it comes to COVID, zero is the word that counts – zero deaths and zero hospitalizations for vaccinated employees,” Kirby wrote. “And while I know some people still disagree with our policy, United are proving that requiring the vaccine is the right thing to do because it saves lives.”