Omicron variant causes Christmas flight cancellations and holiday travel headaches

Delta and United Airlines are both blaming some cancellations on issues stemming from the omicron variant

Travelers are having a rough Christmas Eve at the airport due in part to the coronavirus omicron variant.

According to Flight Aware, United Airlines canceled at least 185 flights for Friday, about 9% of its planned schedule, and another 167 that were slated for Saturday.

FOX Business has identified 21 instances where United Airlines cancellations on Christmas Eve are directly attributed to the coronavirus, stating that staffing issues have caused the cancellation.

For a flight from Denver to Newark scheduled for Friday, for example, the following message is shown on the United Airlines website: "Your flight is canceled due to an increase in Covid cases limiting crew availability. We're sorry for disrupting your holiday plans and for the inconvenience."

A United Airlines spokesperson confirmed to FOX Business that the nationwide spike in coronavirus omicron variant cases has disrupted some of their flights.


Holiday travelers check in at an American Airlines ticket kiosk at Pittsburgh International Airport in Imperial, Pa., Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021.  (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar / AP Newsroom)

"The nationwide spike in Omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation. As a result, we’ve unfortunately had to cancel some flights and are notifying impacted customers in advance of them coming to the airport. We’re sorry for the disruption and are working hard to rebook as many people as possible and get them on their way for the holidays," the spokesperson said.

United Airlines isn't the only airline feeling the impact of the omicron variant, as Delta Air Lines is also blaming the omicron variant for some flight cancellations.

According to Flight Aware, Delta Air Lines canceled at least 165 flights on Friday, and 238 for Saturday.

"We apologize to our customers for the delay in their holiday travel plans. Delta people are working hard to get them to where they need to be as quickly and as safely as possible on the next available flight," the spokesperson said. "Flight cancellations are due to a combination of issues, including but not limited to, potential inclement weather in some areas and the impact of the Omicron variant."

Holiday travelers check in at the Southwest Airlines counter at Pittsburgh International Airport in Imperial, Pa., Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021.AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar / AP Newsroom)


Delta Air Lines Chief Executive Officer Ed Bastian and other medical officers said in a Dec. 21 letter to Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that the isolation guidelines for vaccinated individuals should be revisited.

Instead, Bastian and Delta's medical officers proposed a 5-day isolation period from the time that symptoms begin, stating that the omicron variant may "exacerbate shortages and create significant disruptions."


Holiday passengers departing Chicago's Midway International Airport check-in and retrieve bag tags as a Southwest Airlines flight arrives Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021.  (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast / AP Newsroom)

"With the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, the 10-day isolation for those who are fully vaccinated may significantly impact our workforce and operations. Similar to healthcare, police, fire, and public transportation workforces, the Omicron surge may exacerbate shortages and create significant disruptions. Further, all airline personnel are required to mask at airports and on airplanes," the letter states.

Airlines for America, a trade organization representing multiple U.S. airlines, including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines, also wrote a letter to Dr. Walensky in support of the 5-day isolation recommendation.

On Dec. 23. the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA wrote a separate letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stating that they support the current 10-day isolation recommendation.