Travel disruptions are set to continue in 2022 as heavy vacation traffic in the air and on the ground coincides with a surge in coronavirus cases in the U.S. and airlines, rail companies and even their regulators grapple with unavailability of staff due to the escalating pandemic of contagious variants from Omicron and Delta.
According to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University, the US hit a new record high on Friday with over 640,000 daily Covid-19 cases. A total of 647,067 new cases and 1,409 new deaths were reported nationwide as of Friday. The one-day increase in cases has set a new record since the pandemic began in the country, Xinhua news agency reported.
At the start of New Year’s weekend, when return flights will bring another high point in air travel, airlines have canceled more than 1,000 flights to, from, or within the United States every day.
“Airlines and their staff say the latest chapter in the pandemic, the Omicron variant, severely restricted the ability to occupy flights, despite the vast majority of crew members being vaccinated,” the New York Times reported Thursday.
JetBlue was one of the hardest hit airlines, cutting 17 percent of their flights Thursday, according to air travel data site FlightAware.
The airline said Wednesday that it will suspend around 1,280 flights by mid-January, citing the surge in virus cases in the northeast, where its operations and crews are concentrated.
The Transportation Security Administration estimates that up to 10 million people could fly Thursday through Monday. Airlines have been preparing labor reserves for the vacation rush for months, but “these measures were insufficient in a rapidly changing situation and many passengers were frustrated,” the report said.
Due to the persistent staff shortage, the flight attendants from Spirit Airlines will receive
“All flight attendants, regardless of how they received their pairing, will receive a 200 percent salary for each pairing that lasts December 28 through January 4,” the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA said in a statement. The union represented around 4,000 flight attendants at Spirit Airlines, according to the airline’s latest annual report.
Spirit Airlines is an American ultra-low-cost airline headquartered in Miramar, Florida, in the greater Miami area. Spirit operates scheduled flights in the USA as well as in the Caribbean and Latin America. Spirit was the fourth largest passenger airline in North America in 2020 and the largest ultra-low-cost airline in North America.
To make matters worse, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced on Friday that an “increased number” of its own employees would test positive for the Covid-19 infection, which could force them to put in place health and cleaning procedures that reduce the number of flights that the system can handle.
“To ensure safety, traffic at some facilities could be reduced, which can lead to delays at peak times,” said the FAA, adding that airlines have canceled more than 11,000 flights since Christmas Eve, including more than 1,000 already scrapped Saturday and Sunday schedules, but none of them were the result of FAA problems.
Meanwhile, CNN quoted the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) on Thursday as saying it had “sufficient staff to cover flight schedules and passenger volumes.”
The TSA expects 10 million more people to pass airport controls by the end of Monday.
Amtrak, a passenger rail service that offers medium and long-distance services in the adjacent U.S. and nine cities in Canada, said Thursday that it will reduce its timetable between New Years Eve and January 6 because of battling bad weather in some parts of the country and an increase in coronavirus cases among its employees.
Almost two dozen trains are affected, both on the northeast corridor and on long-distance routes. The discounts are roughly 1.5 percent on Amtrak’s trains scheduled for the week.
“Amtrak regrets the inconvenience,” it said in a statement from Deutsche Bahn.
“We continue to monitor changing conditions and will make further adjustments as necessary.”
“The shortened train schedule reflects thousands of canceled flights since Christmas Eve and disruptions in local traffic as the rapidly expanding Omicron variant drives the case numbers to the highest level of the pandemic,” reported the Washington Post.
On the previous Tuesday, several lines of New Jersey Transit had to cancel trains as the transit agency dealt with so-called “occupation problems”, while New York City Transit had to suspend three lines for the same reason.
“Like everyone in New York, we are affected by the Covid wave. We run as much rail traffic as possible with the operators we have available, ”said the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), a public transportation not-for-profit company in the New York City area of New York state.
The W line was suspended all Wednesday, affecting riders, many of whom said their commuting was affected. The suspension continued on Thursday and the B and Z services were also canceled. The MTA suggested that Straphanger use the Q trains in Brooklyn and the D trains in Manhattan and Bronx.