Thousands of United employees call out sick, forcing flight cancellations

United Airlines is canceling and rescheduling an unspecified number flights over staffing shortages from COVID-19 infections, CEO Scott Kirby said in a memo to staff on Monday. 

In the memo, which was shared with The Hill, Kirby said that more than 3,000 employees are currently positive for the coronavirus and that United, which has mandated vaccines for its workforce, is reducing its "near-term schedules to make sure we have the staffing and resources to take care of customers." 

He added that at its Newark, N.J., hub, around one-third of United's staff was unavailable because of positive coronavirus infections, adding that "Omicron has affected the personal well-being of our United team."

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Last week it was reported that nearly 20,000 flights across multiple carriers have been canceled since Christmas Eve. Airlines have been forced to cancel flights because of staff shortages driven by the surge in COVID-19 cases nationwide, as well as by inclement weather across the country.

On a positive note, however, Kirby added that no vaccinated employees have died since the company's mandate went into effect. 

He also shared that, so far, no vaccinated employee who has tested positive for the coronavirus has been hospitalized.

"The second and most important piece of good news is that our vaccine requirement is working — and saving lives. While we have about 3,000 employees who are currently positive for COVID, zero of our vaccinated employees are currently hospitalized," he added.

Kirby further added that since United's vaccine policy went into effect, "the hospitalization rate among employees has been 100 times lower than the general population in the U.S."

He told staff that before the vaccine requirement, "more than one United employee on average per week was dying from COVID."

As of Monday, businesses with 100 or more employees were required to have a database of their workers’ vaccination status, post their company vaccine policy, provide paid leave to workers getting the vaccine and require unvaccinated employees to wear a mask at work.