December 26, 2021 12:57 PM EST

Bloomberg — Airlines’ U.S. flight cancellations neared almost 1,800 for the Christmas weekend, disrupting travel on one of the busiest periods of the year as the omicron-fueled wave of Covid cases triggered air-crew shortages.

Saturday’s pullbacks erased at least 10% of the schedule at Delta Air Lines Inc., United Airlines Holdings Inc. and JetBlue Airways Corp., according to data tracker FlightAware.com. The cuts on Christmas Day in the U.S. totaled almost 900.

“Like many businesses and organizations, we have seen an increasing number of sick calls from omicron,” JetBlue spokesperson Derek Dombrowski said in an emailed statement. “Despite our best efforts, we’ve had to cancel a number of flights, and additional flight cancellations and other delays remain a possibility as we see more omicron community spread.”

Airlines’ tie-ups added to evidence of economic disruptions from the omicron variant, whose fast spread is causing havoc even though initial indications suggest that it causes less-severe illness than other Covid strains. Health-care systems are being squeezed by a lack of staff, and a U.S. Navy warship is stuck at Guantanamo Bay after a Covid outbreak on board.

The global tally of dropped flights exceeded 5,700 trips for Friday through Sunday, according to FlightAware. China Eastern had the most cancellations, and the most-affected airport was in the Chinese city of Xi’an, where the Beijing government cracked down under its Covid Zero policy after an outbreak.

Delta’s 539 cancellations for the holiday weekend led the U.S. industry, FlightAware data showed, closely followed by United, with 484 flights erased from its holiday itineraries. JetBlue had at least 201 flights canceled for the weekend, according to FlightAware.

 

The holidays are among the heaviest times for travel. The Transportation Security Administration was estimating Dec. 22 and 23 would be the busiest pre-Christmas travel dates nationally and locally, with Jan. 2 and 3 the most crowded for post-holiday travel.

Costumer-complaint messages piled up on the airlines’ Twitter feeds as passengers lamented the disruptions to their holiday weekend plans. Travelers denounced the flight delays, cancellations and missing luggage on social media.

“The nationwide spike in Omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation,” said Maddie King, a spokesperson for United. “As a result, we’ve unfortunately had to cancel some flights and are notifying impacted customers in advance of them coming to the airport.”


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Globally, cancellations ranked among the highest at Xi’an Xianyang International Airport, in the western Chinese city where the government punished local officials for failing to curb an outbreak that led to the biggest lockdown since Covid emerged in Wuhan. Nearly a third of the flights departing from the airport were canceled Friday and Saturday, according to FlightAware.

Robert Mann, a former American Airlines executive who is now a consultant, said there are about 115,000 flights a day globally during a peak travel period such as Christmas.

“As for China, It’s not a very transparent market over there, and what we know there’s been a number of cities that have shut down, and as result that would be expected to impact air service dramatically.”

Elsewhere, British discounter EasyJet said it had canceled some flights between the U.K. and France and Germany for the rest of December, following the introduction of restrictions on U.K. travelers to those countries.

–With assistance from Charlotte Ryan, Will Davies and Justin Bachman.

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