U.S. Airlines Struggle With Omicron Disruption On Last Day Of Year

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Travelers are seen under a PSA advice mask wearing in a lobby during the holiday season as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus threatens to increase the number of cases at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia, United States, December 22, 2021. REUTERS / Elijah Nouvelage

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Dec.31 (Reuters) – Thousands of flights in the United States and abroad were delayed or canceled on Friday, adding to travel disruption during the holiday week due to inclement weather conditions and increased cases of the variant of the Omicron coronavirus.

More than 3,090 flights were canceled worldwide as of early Friday evening, including nearly 1,550 flights within the United States or entering or departing, according to an ongoing tally on the flight tracking site FlightAware. com. In total, there have been over 8,650 flight delays worldwide.

The Christmas holidays are usually a peak time for air travel, but the rapid spread of the highly transmissible variant of Omicron has led to a sharp rise in COVID-19 infections, forcing airlines to cancel flights as as pilots and crew in quarantine.

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The sudden arrival of Omicron has resulted in a record number of cases in countries around the world. Transportation agencies across the United States are suspending or reducing service due to COVID-19 staff shortage as the Omicron variant rises across the country.

The number of new COVID-19 cases in the United States has doubled in eight days to a record 329,000 per day on average, according to a Reuters count. During the same period, the number of hospitalized COVID patients increased by 32% and reached an all-time high in Maryland, Ohio and Washington, DC

As of Thursday alone, 23 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, DC set pandemic records for new cases, according to the Reuters tally.

New York State reported more than 74,000 cases of COVID-19 on Thursday from more than 336,000 tests at a 22% positivity rate, Governor Kathy Hochul said.

New York announced last week that it would severely limit the number of people allowed in Times Square for the New Year’s Eve celebration, which culminates with the fall of a giant crystal ball at midnight, marking the start of the New Year.

“We’ve reduced the crowd density. It’s a safer way to do it,” Tom Harris, president of the Times Square Alliance, told CNN Friday. New York City Mayor-elect Eric Adams will be sworn in after the ball drops.

Some critics, however, have expressed concerns about the continuation of the celebrations, given the high positivity rate.

The increase in COVID-19 cases in the United States has caused some companies to change course from previous plans to increase the number of employees working from their offices starting next week. Chevron Corp (CVX.N) was set to begin a full return to power from Jan.3, but told employees this week it was postponing plans to an unspecified date.

Cabin crew, pilots and support staff at U.S. airlines are reluctant to work overtime during the vacation travel season despite offers of significant financial incentives. Many workers fear contracting COVID-19 and do not appreciate the prospect of dealing with unruly passengers, some airline unions have said.

In the months leading up to the holidays, airlines were courting employees to ensure a strong workforce, having laid off or laid off thousands of people in the past 18 months as the pandemic crippled the industry.

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Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru Additional reporting by Katanga Johnson in Washington, Liz Hampton in Denver and Lisa Shumaker in Chicago Editing by Matthew Lewis and Rosalba O’Brien

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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