United, Delta cancel more than 200 Christmas Eve flights amid omicron surge

More than 100 flights that were scheduled for Christmas Eve have been canceled by United Airlines as the company grapples with the spread of the omicron variant, the airline confirmed on Thursday.

A spokesperson for United said that “we’re seeing about 120 cancellations planned for Friday.”

“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 said in a statement. “As a result, we’ve unfortunately had to cancel some flights and are notifying impacted customers in advance of them coming to the airport. We’re sorry for the disruption and are working hard to rebook as many people as possible and get them on their way for the holidays.”

Delta Air Lines also announced on Thursday that it would be preemptively canceling roughly 90 flights on Christmas Eve.

In a statement provided to The Hill, the airline said, “Delta teams have exhausted all options and resources — including rerouting and substitutions of aircraft and crews to cover scheduled flying — before canceling around 90 flights for Friday.”

“We apologize to our customers for the delay in their holiday travel plans. Delta people are working hard to get them to where they need to be as quickly and as safely as possible on the next available flight,” said Delta.

The United States is seeing a surge of new COVID-19 cases, with daily numbers of infections reaching over 200,000 in recent days. Health officials say the omicron variant is highly transmissible, though some preliminary data suggests that it may not be as severe as previous strains of the virus.

Preliminary studies have also shown that vaccines may be less effective against the variant than other COVID-19 strains but that a booster shot still provides strong protection. A report from Britain released on Thursday, however, also suggests that the booster’s effectiveness against symptomatic infections of the omicron variant wanes within 10 weeks of people receiving the extra dose.

Health officials are urging Americans to get their boosters if they are eligible, and to get their initial vaccine doses if they have not done so. 

They say that vaccinating against COVID-19 remains one of the strongest tools to combat the virus, though legal challenges against the Biden administration’s vaccine mandates and persistent vaccine hesitancy among some Americans has made the task of inoculating Americans more difficult.

In an effort to provide more tools to Americans, President Biden said on Tuesday that his administration would be buying 500 million at-home COVID-19 tests so they could be given out to Americans who may need them.

In an interview with ABC’s David Muir aired on Wednesday evening, however, Biden did express regret that the administration had not ordered those tests sooner.

“I wish I had thought about ordering half a billion [tests] two months ago,” Biden said.

— Updated at 11:04 p.m.

Tags COVID-19 COVID-19 variants Flight Cancellations Joe Biden omicron Omicron variant United Airlines

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