How Have Airlines Recovered From Christmas Cancellations?
This winter, airline passengers were were hit with a slew of unexpected cancellations, just as Americans were returning to pre-pandemic flying habits. The TSA estimates that approximately 2 million passed through screening checkpoints each day in the week preceding Christmas Eve.
This busy period also coincided with a new wave of Covid cases. According to The New York Times' coronavirus tracker, the United States was averaging about 200,000 new cases every day, which was even more than the average case load during the summer peak.
On Christmas Day, approximately 1,000 flights were cancelled in the United States due to the fast spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, which forced thousands of crew members to call in sick. The cancellations were felt across the industry, impacting more than 10% of Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and JetBlue flights. The country’s largest carrier American Airlines had to cancel just under 5% of its flights.
By midday on Saturday, the number of cancellations had already surpassed the total number of cancellations on Christmas Eve: a blow for travellers and airlines hoping for a return to normality this holiday season. Worldwide, over 2,500 planned flights were cancelled on Christmas Day.
This inescapable surge in Covid cases meant that airlines suffered financially, with Delta losing some $408 million in the fourth quarter of 2021 as a result of the Omicron wave. The carrier now predicts another quarterly loss until travel picks up in the Spring. CEO Ed Bastian revealed that, in the four weeks leading up to Christmas, approximately 8,000 employees caught Covid. Since December 24, more than 2,200 flights have been cancelled due to ill personnel and winter weather.
However, as we start the New Year, Delta is now experiencing some much needed calm after the storm.
Allison Ausband, a E.V.P. and Chief Customer Experience Officer remarked that “the stabilization that we’re seeing right now is really a testament to the resilience of the Delta people.”
She went on, saying “at a time when we were anticipating the highest levels of demand that we’ve seen in two years, we were also challenged by omicron and the complexity of winter weather systems in many areas of the country. But our people persevered, backed up their colleagues as they focused on their health and getting well, and stayed focused on taking care of all of our customers to get them to their destination safely and comfortably.”
Earlier this month, Ed Bastian referred to the past few weeks as “some of the most difficult travel conditions that we ever remember experiencing.” However, he points out that, “the good news is that over the past seven days we’ve been stabilizing,” noting that only 1% of the carrier’s scheduled flights were cancelled on Jan. 12. “It appears that the worst may be behind us.”