By John Pullen 12/24/2021 4517 views

More operational disruptions are plaguing America’s airline industry. Two of America’s largest carriers, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines, have already canceled over 200 flights on Christmas Eve as a result of a lack of available staff due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Photo of N76529 - United Airlines Boeing 737-800 at DCA
Lack of available staff has forced United to cancel 125 flights on Christmas Eve. Photo: Andrew Mauro


United Airlines alone has canceled 125 flights for Friday, December 24, 2021. The airline has cited a rising number of COVID-19 cases as the reason, explaining crew availability has been strained by staff calling in sick, and this has led to a disruption of their scheduled flights. Though these cancellations have only begun recently, signs of United’s staffing shortages could be seen days earlier, when the airline announced they would be cutting 14 regional routes from their Washington-Dulles hub in the spring due to a pilot shortage. With already strained staffing numbers, it should come as no surprise that the spike in COVID-19 cases has caused wide-scale operational difficulties.


Passengers walk through a terminal at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport on Dec. 22, 2021 in Baltimore, Md.
Passengers walking through Baltimore/Washington Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) on Wednesday. Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images


Similarly, Delta Air Lines has canceled more than 85 flights across the country. The airline released a statement regarding their cancellations, explaining that Delta teams had, “exhausted all options and resources -- including rerouting and substitutions of aircraft and crews to cover scheduled flying -- before canceling around 90 flights for Friday.”


Photo of N866DA - Delta Airlines Boeing 777-200ER at ORD
Delta is also seeing major cancellations as a result of staff shortages. Photo: Nick Hamilton


Meanwhile, United has responded to the disruptions by upgauging some of their flights to larger aircraft. Because they are facing a severe lack of Boeing 737 pilots, some routes have been upgraded to the Boeing 777. While this could give United additional challenges since Boeing 777s require a larger cabin crew than the smaller narrowbody they will replace, these aircraft swaps are clearly designed to avoid further cancellations as millions take to the skies for the holidays.


As the busy travel season continues and COVID-19 cases rise, other operational issues are a strong possibility. The current disruptions only highlight the challenge staffing shortages and COVID-19 present the airline industry. In the coming months, these challenges will need to be addressed if reliability is to improve among America’s carriers.

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