Understaffed by omicron, airlines canceled some Christmas Eve flights at the last minute: NPR

Understaffed by omicron, airlines canceled some Christmas Eve flights at the last minute: NPR

Many vacationers had to cancel flights at the last minute on Christmas Eve due to the increase in the omicron variant. Airlines say an increase in cases has resulted in staff shortages.


It was a chaotic day for many travelers hoping to see their family or just get away for Christmas. Airlines canceled hundreds of U.S. flights at the last minute, and some blamed the rise in omicrones for being understaffed. MediaFrolic’s Jennifer Ludden shares the story. Hello Jennifer.


SHAPIRO: The Omicron variant has been known to us for several weeks. Could the airlines just not prepare for all vacation trips?

LUDDEN: Well, you know, they tried. Some had offered employees incentive pay to allow them to work extra during this busy time or not to call in sick. Delta said today it has rerouted and swapped planes and crews but made every effort to avoid cancellations. Delta, United and Lufthansa all said they just have too many crew members who have called in sick or are in isolation because of COVID-19. This week, an industry group, Airlines for America, called on the CDC to cut that isolation time in half for fully vaccinated crew members. They argue that it makes sense since the Omicron variant appears to be milder with a shorter duration of infection.

SHAPIRO: What did all these canceled flights mean for the passengers?

LUDDEN: You know, some get rebooked pretty quickly. I spoke to Brianne Armstrong from San Antonio. She is supposed to fly to the Dominican Republic tomorrow. She didn’t see United’s cancellation text until 2:30 p.m. this morning as she was preparing to depart for her 6:15 a.m. flight. So it’s been a long day for her. And she told me that this is her plan B already. She was due to go to Amsterdam in the fall and she had tried to postpone that. And she changed it and eventually canceled it due to increasing coronavirus restrictions in Amsterdam. And all of this has made them rethink where we are in this pandemic. After two years, she says, take a look; it won’t go away and she thinks we need a new approach.

BRIANNE ARMSTRONG: How do we live with that? How do we plan this for the future? And do we, or are we just – are we proactive or do we react to every new variant?

SHAPIRO: Well, Jennifer, airlines are hardly the only workplace that is experiencing disruption because of Omicron, are they?

LUDDEN: Definitely. This variant – it is simply highly transmissible and infects even fully vaccinated people. Scientists expect a massive increase in cases in the coming weeks. And so the existing staff shortage threatens to worsen everywhere – restaurants, shops, and most importantly, hospitals, of course. Concerned, the CDC cut the isolation time for healthcare workers with COVID-19 just yesterday. And above all, so that more of them can get back to work faster.

SHAPIRO: There was some other Omicron travel news today. The Biden government lifts flight restrictions from eight countries in southern Africa. Why now?

LUDDEN: So remember; These were restrictions imposed last month when South Africa first reported this surge in the omicron variant, basically to warn the world, hey, this is coming. And the move was controversial. Some said, look; This won’t help much as omicron is likely already in the US. Today, government officials said, it is clear that this is now obviously the case. It is also spreading in the United States. And they said it was also clear that vaccines, and especially boosters, are effective against severe Omicron disease. The US says it will lift these flight restrictions against South African countries on December 31st.

SHAPIRO: Jennifer Ludden from MediaFrolic, thank you very much.

LUDDEN: Thank you.


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Rachel Meadows

Rachel Meadows

Trending topics news writer who enjoys cooking, walking her dog and travel.

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