As flight cancellations increase, airlines pressure COVID-infected crews to return to work

Air travel across the United States during the holidays was hampered by flight cancellations caused by the booming Omicron variant among airline workers and inclement weather. More than 3,100 flights to, from and within the United States were canceled on Monday, bringing the total to 18,700 since Christmas Eve, according to the FlightAware tracking website.

Throughout the vacation, “airline crews were increasingly ill with the rapidly spreading Omicron variant of Covid,” CNBC reported. Additionally, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials reported that there were 1,778 active infections among TSA employees on Sunday. United, Spirit, Alaska and other airlines have offered vacation bonuses to encourage workers to take on flights even if they are exhausted or sick, but this has failed to stem the tide of cancellations .

A Southwest Airlines plane (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

In addition to illnesses caused by the pandemic, flights were hampered by several large winter storms near major transit hubs in the Midwest and East Coast. A winter storm on New Year’s Day brought between five and nine inches of snow to the Chicago area, causing the cancellation of more than 1,600 flights at O’Hare International and Midway International airports on Saturday and Sunday. A winter storm on the east coast on Monday caused hundreds of cancellations at Reagan National Airport in Washington DC and other airports.

Anticipating a sharp increase in absenteeism during the holidays, Delta Airlines, Southwest and other industry officials lobbied the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to reduce its quarantine guidelines for infected workers or exposed. In an act of criminal disregard for public health, on December 26, the CDC changed its guidelines from 10 to five days, giving the green light to airlines and other businesses to order workers to return to work before they were scheduled to return. are recovering completely and / or have ceased to be transmissible.

“Delta Air Lines was one of the first companies to adapt to the updated forecasts” on December 27, according to The New York Times. “Delta is offering five days of sick leave to infected workers, with two additional paid sick days if they choose to be tested on day 5 and the results are positive,” said the Time reported.

The newspaper added: “Tuesday, in a note seen by The New York Times, JetBlue told employees it would expect those “who have no symptoms, or whose symptoms are improving, to return to work after five days.” Crew members can stay on leave if they provide a medical certificate, but they won’t be paid as if they were working, according to Mr. [Angelo] Cucuzza of the Transport Workers Union.

Travelers pass through Terminal E at Logan Airport on Tuesday, December 21, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo / Charles Krupa)

Jodi, a flight attendant with Southwest Airlines, contacted the World Socialist Website to report that she had contracted COVID-19 in the days leading up to the busy vacation rush. “I did everything the company asked me to do. I was triple vaccinated, ”she said. “I worked on the 21st and 22nd [of December], when I believe I have been exposed, ”she said.

Jodi initially believed that she only suffered from allergies and tried to get out of it. “I have dental care that I need and a daughter that I am helping get to college,” she explained. “I really needed the vacation pay. “

Flight attendants in the Southwest have seen no increases since 2014 due to concessions that Local 555 of the Transport Workers Union has given to the airline. “I minimized my expenses to the point of living in a mobile home,” she said.

On Christmas Eve, her illness was too much to bear. But her only option was to call in sick and “get stuck” at a base away from home or try to “work the flights” at home. Jodi recounted an exchange she had with a base supervisor. “She asked me, ‘Are you feeling good? You look a little sick. ‘”Rather than relieving Jodi of her shift, the supervisor” offered me a peppermint and said it would clear my nose while I was flying. “

Despite widespread evidence that overcrowded airports and planes are super-diffusers of the more contagious Omicron variant, the Biden administration and its discredited science spokespersons have encouraged millions to travel during the holiday season. The overriding concern of the White House was to protect the profits of airlines and other businesses during the holiday shopping season.

CNBC reported Monday that airline shareholders had “ignored” the impact of cancellations, even though they continued to impact travel. The publication reported that airline shares were up on Monday, “a sign that investors are looking into the rest of the year when travel demand is expected to increase.” American Airlines shares rose 4.4% to $ 18.75, United Airlines gained 3.9% to close at $ 45.49 and Delta added 3.1% to close at $ 40.29, according to CNBC .

The publication cited Citigroup airline analyst Stephen Trent, who said the Omicron variant posed a “modest short-term risk”, but that “higher vaccination rates and emerging antiviral treatments … could cause reactions. negative and instinctive stock prices to the emergence of future variants seem increasingly unreasonable.

The airlines, which received $ 54 billion from the CARES Act and other COVID relief funds, have forced tens of thousands of airline workers to take early retirements and other buyouts. Although they increased hiring this year, the airline industry employed 413,000 people in October, down almost 9% from the same month in 2019, according to federal data.

Driven solely by considerations of profit, the airlines and the Biden administration have opposed vaccine warrants for airline passengers. At the same time, airline executives have helped more backward elements opposed to even wearing masks. On December 14, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly told the Senate Trade Committee that “masks add little, if anything, to the cabin environment … it’s very safe. “.

Jodi said the “maskless passengers” probably infected her. “They don’t want us to chase the passengers,” she said, referring to a company policy that restricts the ability of flight attendants to confront passengers who break masking rules.

As if the danger of infection, lifelong debilitation and death from COVID were not enough, flight attendants also face other health and safety threats due to cost reductions by flight attendants. Airlines companies. Jodi is part of a lawsuit launched by unemployed flight attendant Tonya Osborne, who has sued Southwest uniform entrepreneur Cintas, who treats her clothes with highly toxic chemicals known to cause serious problems. health.

Transportation Workers Union Local 555 has done nothing to defend Jodi and other workers affected by COVID-19. “I discovered that there was no grievance [that I can file about the loss of pay], “she said.” The union rep said ‘it’s not in the contract, just an inducement’ to get us to work on public holidays, “she exclaimed, saying the TWU officer had closed the case.

“We have people working 13 to 16 hours a day, which is in violation of the contract, and the TWU just says ‘work, we’ll grieve later.’ “

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