Industry Update
External Article 4 January 2022

Omicron Wreaks Havoc on Holiday Travel; Will It Stall Business Travel Recovery?

Covid-19 variant sweeps pandemic travel concerns into 2022

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More than 4,400 flights were cancelled worldwide on Sunday Jan. 2, according to flight tracking website Flight Aware, dashing pre-holiday hopes for smooth travel going into 2022. With the Covid-19 omicron variant now bearing down hard in the eastern United States and throughout Europe, more than 2,700 cancellations affected flights into, within or out of the U.S. yesterday.


The cancellation miseries began in earnest on Christmas Eve. Globally, airlines cancelled more than 6,000 flights over the Christmas holiday weekend—Friday, Saturday and Sunday—with more than 1,700 into, within or out of the U.S. But midweek cancellations continued, with airlines cancelling 1,082 flights into, within or out of the U.S. on Wednesday, Dec. 29 and 1,125 on Thursday, Dec. 30.

While omicron was not the only factor contributing to cancellations—there were weather issues as well—staff shortages due to omicron infections and the requisite 10-day isolation period in place leading up to the intensive holiday season were the primary problem, according to the airlines.

"The nationwide spike in omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation," United Airlines offered in a statement on Christmas Eve.

JetBlue issued a similar statement: "Like many businesses and organizations, we have seen an increasing number of sick calls from omicron."

Airlines bulked up staffing with new employees prior to the holidays and wooed existing employees to work through the holiday season or take extra hours with increased pay. The strategy worked for some carriers—both Southwest and American Airlines came through with few cancellations—but not all.

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