Airlines cancel more than 1,300 flights

The coronavirus wave continued to disrupt air travel in the United States as airlines canceled hundreds of flights on Thursday, while the Federal Aviation Administration warned of possible delays due to its own staffing issues agency related to Covid.

More than 1,300 flights in the United States had been cleaned up by Thursday evening, according to aeronautical data tracker FlightAware, with about half already canceled for Friday and Saturday each. The count included domestic flights and those to and from the United States

The FAA said Thursday that its air traffic control staff could also come under pressure, as a growing number of agency employees test positive for Covid-19 along with the rest of the U.S. population.

“To maintain safety, the volume of traffic at some facilities could be reduced, which could lead to delays during peak periods,” an FAA spokesperson said. Agency employees oversee US airspace in control towers across the country.

The FAA warning came after several airlines cut flight plans for similar reasons. JetBlue Airways Corp., which decided to cut its schedule until mid-January due to growing crews calling in sick, canceled 177 flights on Thursday, or 17% of the carrier’s schedule for the day, in the evening, according to FlightAware.

Travelers at the airport in San Jose, Calif., Wednesday.


Photo:

Laura Morton for The Wall Street Journal

The New York-based airline said on Wednesday evening it would cancel around 1,280 flights until Jan. 13, in an effort to give passengers a head start on changing their travel plans.

“There may be additional cancellations each day depending on the trend of sick calls and general staffing issues, but we hope this proactive reduction will minimize same day cancellations and reduce inconvenience to our customers,” said Thursday a spokesperson for JetBlue.

United Airlines Holdings Inc.

canceled 203 flights, or 9% of its main schedule Thursday, according to FlightAware. A spokesperson for the Chicago-based carrier said the cancellations were due to a mix of staff and weather issues related to Covid.

Delta Airlines Inc.

DAL -0.31%

said it planned to cancel around 250, or 6%, of its scheduled main and regional flights on Thursday. The Atlanta-based carrier said it would likely cancel as many flights per day this weekend as it aims “to alleviate stress from increasing winter conditions and the Omicron variant.”

As of Thursday, no major flight cancellations applied to any U.S. airlines. Southwest Airlines Co.

had canceled 20 flights Thursday evening. A spokeswoman said the Dallas-based carrier had seen a slight increase in the number of employees testing positive for Covid-19, but “we have yet to see an impact on our operation.”

To help fight Omicron, the Biden administration is opening more Covid test sites and providing 500 million Covid tests to Americans. Daniela Hernandez of the WSJ explains why testing is still a pain point in the United States, two years after the start of the pandemic. Photographic illustration: David Fang

American Airlines Group Inc.

AAL 0.11%

Nor had it experienced many cancellations on Thursday, seven on its main schedule, according to FlightAware. A spokeswoman for the Fort Worth, Texas carrier said Covid-related illness calls, weather and maintenance issues contributed to flights cleaned up this week.

Travelers faced disruption due to airline staff issues and bad weather for nearly a week. Carriers could face another challenge next week, if the FAA imposes flight restrictions due to the regulator’s security concerns over a new 5G wireless service scheduled to go live on January 5.

The FAA spokesperson declined to comment on potential flight restrictions the agency previously described.

U.S. aviation and telecommunications regulators and industry officials are working to resolve a long-standing dispute in order to avoid such disruption. Wireless industry leaders in the United States have said the new cellular service poses no risk to aircraft.

Write to Andrew Tangel at [email protected]

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Appeared in the print edition of Dec.31, 2021 under the headline ‘FAA Warns of Covid Staffing Issues’.


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