JetBlue cancels nearly 1,300 flights through mid-January over COVID-19 call-outs

Expecting more employees to call out sick with COVID-19, JetBlue has preemptively canceled more than 1,000 flights through mid-January.

The airline has pulled 1,280 flights off the schedule between Dec. 30 and Jan. 13 as omicron rages on land and in the air, the company confirmed Thursday.

“Like many businesses and organizations, we have seen a surge in the number of sick calls from omicron. We entered the holiday season with the highest staffing levels we’ve had since the pandemic began and are using all resources available to cover our staffing needs,” a spokesperson told reporters.

“We have 22,000 incredible crewmembers, many of whom are stepping up and volunteering to work additional hours to get our customers where they need to go.”

To overcome the sick days, JetBlue is moving leaders and managers to the front lines to help staff, offering “incentives” to employees who pick up additional shifts and canceling flights “where there is the least amount of disruption to customers, especially in cases where we can combine flights to the same destination.”

On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cut its recommended isolation time from 10 days to five for vaccinated people who test positive but are asymptomatic. Several airliners, including JetBlue, had been pushing for similar measures to get employees back to work quicker.

“While the new CDC guidelines should help get crew members back to work sooner, and our schedule reduction and other efforts will further ease day-of cancellations, we expect the number of COVID cases in the Northeast — where most of our crew members are based — to continue to surge for the next week or two,” JetBlue said. “This means there is a high likelihood of additional cancellations until case counts start to come down.”

JetBlue is canceling more than 1,200 flights through mid-January.
JetBlue is canceling more than 1,200 flights through mid-January. (Seth Wenig/AP)

As of 11 a.m. Thursday, more than 2,600 flights were already canceled, including more than 1,700 into, out of or within the United States, according to FlightAware.

Since Christmas, airliners have been battling increasing COVID-19 cases just as travel ticked up for the holidays.

Bad weather, including snow in the Pacific Northwest and Midwest has also complicated matters.

The Association of Flight Attendants has criticized the CDC’s recommendation to slash isolation time for those with asymptomatic COVID cases, and accused the agency of putting the economy ahead of public health.

“We cannot allow pandemic fatigue to lead to decisions that extend the life of the pandemic or put policies on the backs of workers. Already the lack of paid sick leave creates pressure on workers to come to work sick,” union president Sara Nelson said in a statement Monday after the CDC’s new guidance was announced.

“Corporations that fail to recognize this with paid sick leave, or pressure workers to come to work sick or face discipline, are failing their workers and their customers. Any member of Congress who doesn’t support paid sick leave is saying that their constituents’ lives don’t matter.”

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