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Major flight cancellations continue as Omicron outbreak causes staffing shortage

Travel chaos due to COVID staffing shortages
Travel chaos due to COVID staffing shortages 01:57

Airlines across the United States have continued major flight cancellations as the COVID-19 Omicron variant outbreak continues to cause industry-wide staffing shortages. 

As of Thursday afternoon, more than 1,190 flights into, out of and within the U.S. had been canceled, according to tracking service FlightAware. Over 4,300 more had been delayed. 

JetBlue will be reducing its schedule through January 13 by about 1,280 flights due to crew members out sick, a spokesperson for the airline told Reuters.

On Wednesday, a total of 1,082 flights into, out of and within the U.S were canceled, FlightWare said. United canceled 180 flights, Delta canceled 137 flights, and JetBlue and Spirit canceled 106 and 76 flights respectively. 

An additional 6,023 flights were delayed, with the largest disruptions taking place in airports with international hubs, like Dallas-Fort Worth, Seattle-Tacoma and Denver International Airport. 

JetBlue and Spirit did not immediately respond to CBS News' request for comment. 

Earlier Wednesday, a spokesperson for Delta said winter weather and the Omicron variant continued to "hamper operations."

A spokesperson from United Airlines told CBS News that 150 of Wednesday's cancellations were due to COVID-19 staffing issues, and that they are working to rebook as many customers as possible. 

"The nationwide spike in Omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation," a United Airlines spokesperson said. "As a result, we've unfortunately had to cancel some flights and are notifying impacted customers in advance of them coming to the airport." 

People are seen in a TSA security checkpoint line at Orlando
People are seen in a TSA security checkpoint line at Orlando International Airport two days before Christmas.  SOPA Images

The continued cancellations are apart of an ongoing struggle between airlines that are short staffed and consumers dependent on air travel for the holiday season. The Transportation Safety Administration has said that travel has continued to return to pre-pandemic numbers, with 1,995,747 people screened at security checkpoints on Tuesday alone. Six million people are expected to fly, according to the TSA. 

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 Omicron variant has continued to cause an uptick in positive case reports around the country. The Centers for Disease Control said that as of December 25, Omicron cases made up of 58.6% of all infections in the U.S, with a 95% prediction interval of 41.5-74%.

On Monday, the CDC shortened the previously recommended 10-day isolation period to 5 days for asymptomatic patients in effort to aid workforces, like airlines, reeling from a shortage of workers. 

"The Omicron variant is spreading quickly and has the potential to impact all facets of our society. CDC's updated recommendations for isolation and quarantine balance what we know about the spread of the virus and the protection provided by vaccination and booster doses. These updates ensure people can safely continue their daily lives." 

For travelers who flights have not been cancelled and are still planning on using air travel, the CDC continues to recommend only traveling if vaccinated, and then mask wearing, social distancing and testing frequently. 

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