Dec 30, 2021 - Economy

JetBlue cuts more than 1,000 flights in anticipation of Omicron onslaught

etBlue Airway plane seen at Cancun International Airport. On Wednesday, December 08, 2021, in Cancun International Airport, Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico.

A JetBlue Airways plane at Cancun International Airport in Mexico on Dec. 8. Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

JetBlue Airways is canceling over 1,280 flights beginning Thursday through mid-January in an attempt to get ahead of a surge in cases among pilots and flight attendants.

Why it matters: The move follows days of disrupted travel over the last week, when airlines, including JetBlue, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines, cut more than 4,000 flights largely due to staffing challenges.

Driving the news: JetBlue canceled 173 flights, or 17% of its scheduled flights, on Thursday, according to flight-tracking site FlightAware.

  • United Airlines canceled 188 flights, or 8% of its mainline schedule. Alaska Airlines canceled 95 flights, 14% of what it was scheduled to fly.
  • The flight reductions are scheduled to go through Jan. 13, according to JetBlue.

The big picture: Major airlines and their lobby urged the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to cut the quarantine period for fully vaccinated people to five days from symptom onset due to the threat of Omicron on staffing.

  • JetBlue amended its leave policies following the CDC's announcement this week, shortening its recommended isolation time.

What they're saying: "While the new CDC guidelines should help get crewmembers back to work sooner, and our schedule reduction and other efforts will further ease day-of cancellations, we expect the number of COVID cases in the northeast ... to continue to surge for the next week or two," JetBlue spokesperson Derek Dombrowski wrote in a statement.

  • "This means there is a high likelihood of additional cancellations until case counts start to come down."
  • The flight cancellations are part of an effort "to get even further ahead of the expected increase in Omicron cases," three JetBlue department leaders wrote Tuesday in a note to staff, according to CNBC.

Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents 50,000 flight attendants at 17 airlines, said: "Staffing remains tight as workers are hesitant to pick up voluntary overtime due to disruptive passengers, COVID concerns and COVID test positives during the busiest travel period of the year."

  • "We have negotiated holiday incentives to help with operational challenges but there’s only so far you can stretch people."
  • "It’s also important to recognize that some of the cancellations and delays are weather related," Nelson said.

Go deeper: Omicron surge and storms disrupt air travel for 4th straight day

Editor's note: This story has been updated with comment from JetBlue and Sara Nelson.

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