In a single day over the holidays, nearly one in three United Airlines employees called in sick at Newark Liberty International Airport, a major hub for the airline, the company’s chief executive said on Tuesday.
The revelation, which came in a memo to staff from the airline’s chief executive, Scott Kirby, helps explain why U.S. airlines have had to cancel more than more than 27,000 flights, or about 8 percent of all scheduled trips, over two weeks starting the day before Christmas, according to FlightAware, a data tracking service. Employees calling in sick and storms that produced strong winds, rains, and in some cases record snowfall at national airports wreaked havoc with United and other airlines and left many passengers stranded.
Overall, about 3,000 United Airlines employees — more than 4 percent of its work force — have recently tested positive for the coronavirus, Mr. Kirby said in his memo. The majority of these employees are not working and United has cut its flight schedule in order to address the shortage.
“Our frontline teams continue to put in a tremendous effort during what I know is an incredibly challenging and stressful time — the Omicron surge has put a strain on our operation, resulting in customer disruptions during a busy holiday season,” he said.
United cancelled more that 2,500 flights during the two-week period just before Christmas. SkyWest Airlines, which operates shorter flights than major carriers like United, cancelled more than 4,600 flights in that time period. This is more than any other airline. Southwest Airlines was second with more than 4000 flights.
United was one the first major American companies to impose a vaccine requirement. Nearly all of its employees are now fully vaccinated. Kirby stated that the policy was effective.
According to Kirby, no vaccinated employees are admitted to hospital and the hospitalization rate of United employees since the mandate came into effect in fall has been significantly lower than the general population. Mr. Kirby stated that before the requirement, every week more than one United employee had died from the virus. Eight weeks have passed without any virus-related deaths among vaccinated employees at the airline.
“In dealing with Covid, zero is the word that matters — zero deaths and zero hospitalizations for vaccinated employees,” he said. “And while I know that some people still disagree with our policy, United is proving that requiring the vaccine is the right thing to do because it saves lives.”
The flight cancellations continue into this week as airlines adjust their schedules in advance to accommodate staffing and holiday disruptions. However the number has steadily fallen in recent days. On Tuesday, more than 650 flights were cancelled, with 150 of these operated by United.
Source: NY Times