How bad has the Omicron variant affected staffing shortages at airlines, which have endured a nearly three-week meltdown of delays and cancellations?
Just ask United Airlines.
The Chicago-based carrier said in a memo to staff that almost 3,000 of its workers worldwide have COVID-19, about four percent of its total workforce. In fact, CEO Scott Kirby said that during one recent day, one of every three workers at one of United’s hubs at Newark-Liberty International Airport in New Jersey missed work.
“Our frontline teams continue to put in a tremendous effort during what I know is an incredibly challenging and stressful time — the Omicron surge has put a strain on our operation, resulting in customer disruptions during a busy holiday season,” Kirby said in an email that was seen by the New York Times.
The admission helped shed some light on the stark picture the airlines have been facing.
Since December 23, more than 27,000 U.S. flights have been canceled and nearly 100,000 have been delayed due to Omicron-related staffing shortages and periods of bad weather that have affected the west, Midwest, mid-Atlantic and Northeast.
Kirby said he stands by his August 2021 decision to have every United employee vaccinated, the first of its kind for an airline.
“In dealing with Covid, zero is the word that matters — zero deaths and zero hospitalizations for vaccinated employees,” he said. “And while I know that some people still disagree with our policy, United is proving that requiring the vaccine is the right thing to do because it saves lives.”