A JetBlue Airways Airbus A321neo.
- JetBlue Airways will cut around 1,280 flights through mid-January in anticipation of the Omicron coronavirus variant’s impact.
- Sick calls from workers due to Omicron has been impacting staffing levels at the airline.
- JetBlue customers with any type of ticket can change or cancel their travel through January.
JetBlue Airways is feeling the effects of rising Omicron coronavirus variant cases and preemptively reducing its flight schedule through mid-January in anticipation of an impact on its operation.
A total of 1,280 flights are affected by the schedule cuts in effect, JetBlue confirmed to Insider, between December 30 and January 13, 2022.
“Like many businesses and organizations, we have seen a surge in the number of sick calls from Omicron,” a JetBlue spokesperson told Insider. “We entered the holiday season with the highest staffing levels we’ve had since the pandemic began and are using all resources available to cover our staffing needs.”
The Omicron schedule cuts will see JetBlue operate fewer flights in January than it did in December, despite plans to outfly the final month of the year. JetBlue had planned to fly 6,204 flights offering nearly one million seats in January, according to Cirium data, compared to 5,538 flights and 832,942 seats scheduled for December.
“We are trying to cancel flights that have the least amount of Customer disruption, especially in cases where we can combine flights to the same destination on the same day,” Joanna Geraghty, JetBlue’s president and chief operating officer, told employees in a memo viewed by Insider. “I know this is not how we wanted the holidays to go, but it is clear we are not through this pandemic.”
Airlines had already been bracing for a depressed post-holiday demand environment that Omicron threatens to sour even more, as indicated by airlines lowering fares to stimulate bookings.
The period immediately following the New Year’s travel rush through Presidents’ Day weekend typically sees fewer leisure travelers that are likely recovering from holiday travel or holiday spending. Business travel during that time period typically helps fill the gap but the impacts of Omicron on the corporate travel segment remain to be seen.
Business travel bookings for January 2022 are up 78% compared to the same time in 2020, according to TripActions data from December 27, a time when the COVID-19 vaccine rollout was just getting underway. The percentage of cancellations is also lower now than the same time in 2020, per the data, at 24% compared to 26% in 2020.
New guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may alleviate some staffing issues for airlines, some of which had asked for shorter quarantine times for workers. Individuals that test positive for COVID-19 should, the CDC says, isolate for at least five days and then can leave isolation while wearing a mask when around others for five days afterward.
JetBlue has already updated its passenger health declaration requirements to reflect the new federal guidance, requiring travelers to confirm that they “will not travel” if they “have had symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19 up to five days prior to departure,” according to JetBlue’s website.
As of Thursday morning, JetBlue has canceled 175 flights representing 17% of its Thursday schedule, according to FlightAware data, ranking second in the US for cancelations behind United. A total of 97 flights, or 9% of its schedule, have been delayed so far.
JetBlue customers with existing reservations and that book tickets through January 31, 2022, regardless of their fare class, will be able to change or cancel their flights at no charge under a new fee waiver posted on Tuesday. Change and cancel fees were eliminated in February for most fares with the exception of basic economy “blue basic” fares.
Customers can push their travel through the end of JetBlue’s schedule but are typically required to pay the difference in fares for the new flights.