Over 2,600 flights cancelled, 4,900 delayed on last day of 2021 due to Omicron fears - GulfToday

Over 2,600 flights cancelled, 4,900 delayed on last day of 2021 due to Omicron fears


A female passenger rests her head on luggage as she awaits the results of her COVID-19 test, at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. AP

Thousands of flights within the United States and internationally were delayed or cancelled on Friday, adding to the travel disruptions during the holiday week due to adverse weather and rising cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Over 2,600 flights were cancelled globally as of early on Friday, including over 1,200 flights within the United States or entering or departing it, according to a running tally on flight-tracking website FlightAware.com. There were over 4,900 global flight delays in total.

The Christmas holidays are typically a peak time for air travel, but the rapid spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant has led to a sharp increase in COVID-19 infections, forcing airlines to cancel flights as pilots and crew need to be quarantined.

The sudden arrival of Omicron has brought record-setting case counts to countries around the world. Transportation agencies across the United States are suspending or reducing service due to COVID-19 staff shortages as the Omicron variant surges nationwide.

The number of new COVID-19 cases has doubled in eight days to a record high of 329,000 a day on average, according to a Reuters tally.

Over that same period, the number of hospitalised COVID patients rose 32% and has hit a record high in Maryland, Ohio and Washington. On Thursday alone, 23 states, Puerto Rico and Washington set pandemic records for new cases, according to the Reuters tally.

Airport-Rush Travellers pass through Salt Lake City International Airport. AP

US airline cabin crew, pilots and support staff are reluctant to work overtime during the holiday travel season despite offers of hefty financial incentives. Many workers fear contracting COVID-19 and do not welcome the prospect of dealing with unruly passengers, some airline unions have said.

In the months preceding the holidays, airlines were wooing employees to ensure solid staffing, after furloughing or laying off thousands over the last 18 months as the pandemic crippled the industry.

Cathay Pacific suspends cargo flights due to virus controls

Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airlines is suspending cargo flights for a week due to stricter quarantine requirements for air crews, potentially adding to strain on global supply chains.

Long-haul flights to Europe, across the Pacific and to Riyadh and Dubai are suspended through Jan. 6, the airline said Thursday. It promised to try to help customers "mitigate the disruption.”

CathayPacific-jets Cathay Pacific Airways aircraft line up on the tarmac at the Hong Kong International Airport. AP

Hong Kong is tightening up virus restrictions after confirming its first cases of community transmission of the omicron variant of the coronavirus on Friday, tied to a Cathay Pacific crew member who had returned from the United States on Christmas Day.

The airline’s workforce is stretched thin after the quarantine for Cathay Pacific flight crews who return from abroad was extended to one week in a hotel room from three days.

Thursday’s announcement gave no details, but The South China Morning Post newspaper said the longer quarantine would leave Cathay without enough pilots for all its flights.

The airline earlier asked staff to volunteer for a "closed-loop system” under which they would work for three-week stints with brief stopovers in Hong Kong, but too few agreed, according to news reports.

Reuters / Associated Press

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