Many travellers had their festive plans ruined after airlines were forced to cancel a large number of flights with issues continuing into the new year. Flight Aware reported more than 6,000 flight cancellations over the world between the 24-26 of December, and on the 2 January, figures were still high with a total of 4,400 cancellations.
In the US, a combination of omicron and adverse weather conditions caused many unhappy passengers to be stuck on the ground after both domestic and international flights were cancelled. Flights coming into the US were also affected as airlines battled with staff shortages caused by illness and isolation due to Covid-19. Over the Christmas weekend, 1,700 flights to, from and within the US were cancelled with similar numbers carrying on through the week leading up to the new year. Despite efforts from airlines to tackle the problem, cancellations were even higher following New Year’s Eve, with more than 2,700 journeys being cancelled across the US on the 2 January.
United Airlines gave the following statement “The nationwide spike in Omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation. As a result, we’ve unfortunately had to cancel some flights.” Many airlines rushed to combat staff shortages by contracting new employees and strategically offering long standing employees increased pay and incentives to cover extra shifts and work overtime.
Robin Hayes, CEO of JetBlue, and Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta, took further action contacting the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requesting changes to regulations to allow staff to return to work quicker; this included measures such as testing and shorter isolation time for vaccinated individuals.
Travel insurers should brace themselves for a wave of claims for cancelled and delayed flights from North American clients as a result of the issues seen over the last two weeks.
Impact on business travel
The emergence of the new variant could threaten business travel once again as companies consider what action to take and whether to limit travel.
According to the latest survey carried by The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) at the beginning of December 82 per cent of those questioned expressed concern about the economic repercussions of the omicron variant for businesses in the travel industry.
Amongst business travel suppliers and travel management companies, a reduction in bookings was noted by 37 per cent, while 35 per cent reported that bookings had been unaffected.
In comparison with previous surveys carried out when the delta variant was emerging, although worries for the economic impact are still high, respondents were more confident about the return to travel and rehiring of staff.
Suzanne Neufang, CEO of GBTA, made the following statement after the latest poll figures were released: “As we move through the pandemic, I think this shows the business travel industry is taking a thoughtful, informed and adaptive approach even as new variants may emerge.”