In this week’s air travel news, United Airlines plans to reduce flight operations due to staff shortages; Delta Air Lines claims schedules are back on track despite 8,000 workers testing positive for COVID-19, and gives customers holding travel credits another year to use them; JetBlue Airways will stop flying 17 mostly leisure routes this spring, including SFO-Cancun; American Airlines trims frequencies on several domestic routes; Air Canada will suspend service to 15 Caribbean destinations; British Airways temporarily drops three US gateways; Virgin Atlantic will begin London-Austin flights; Finnair is coming to Seattle; Singapore Airlines has big plans for service out of the New York area; the US threatens retaliation against China for shutting down transpacific flights; Hong Kong bans transit passengers for a month; American starts code sharing with Aer Lingus; US adds Canada to “do not travel” list; Southwest offers discounted COVID self-testing kits to passengers; and two new European carriers move forward with plans to fly to the US this year.
As US airlines struggle to maintain schedules with workforces reduced by COVID cases and quarantines, United offers numbers this week on just how bad the staffing problem is. In a memo to employees this week, United CEO Scott Kirby revealed that the airline is “reducing our near-term schedules to make sure we have the staffing and resources to take care of customers.” Kirby didn’t specify how deep the reductions would be. He said the airline currently has about 3,000 employees who tested positive for COVID, or roughly 4% of its workforce. The situation varies by location. “Just as an example,” Kirby said, “in one day alone at Newark, nearly one-third of our workforce called out sick.” The rapid spread of the omicron variant “has put a strain on our operation, resulting in customer disruptions during a busy holiday season,” he noted. “While we go to great lengths to avoid canceling flights, we worked to get ahead of the impact by acting early to cancel flights when necessary and notifying impacted customers in advance of them coming to the airport.”