Overseas airlines have to cancel hundreds of flights as they grappleStaff shortages linked to weeks after they abandoned rules requiring passengers and staff to cover up in the air.
The turmoil also comes as CEOs of leading US airlines urges Biden administration Requirement to wear masks in the sky.
Masks have not been ordered on flights operated by Swiss budget airline EasyJet since March 27 He said in the current situation. The move came after the UK removed all travel restrictions earlier in March.
“This welcome move by the UK government marks a return to truly unrestricted travel to and from the UK, giving an extra boost to travel this Easter. We look forward to what we expect to be a strong summer for EasyJet, with plans to return to approx. of flight levels for 2019. We can’t wait to get more customers on board, easyJet CEO Johann Lundgren said in a statement at the time.
Between March 28 and April 3, easyJet canceled 202 of the 3,517 flights that were scheduled to depart from the UK, according to data provided to CBS MoneyWatch from Cirium, an aviation analytics company. By comparison, the carrier canceled zero flights departing from the UK during the same period in 2019, before the pandemic.
An easyJet spokesperson attributed the increase in canceled flights to “higher-than-normal staff sickness levels” due to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases across Europe.
“As a result, we have rolled out a precaution so that customers can be notified in advance of travel and can easily switch to alternative flights,” the spokesperson said in a statement to CBS MoneyWatch.
According to Dr. Eric Weigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and health economist at Harvard Chan School of Public Health, such flight cancellations were guaranteed once passengers and crew members took off their masks.
“This is very much to be expected – the UK government is lowering restrictions, airlines like easyJet are dropping masks… and after less than two weeks… a spike in pilots and flight attendants falling sick with #COVID19 unable to operate, 120 flights canceled! CEOs that,” he said on Twitter.
A similar move by US airlines “would be counterproductive in many ways,” Vigel Ding told CBS MoneyWatch. He thinks more passengers will be reluctant to fly if airlines abandon the rules. “If there are no masks, it actually makes people more anxious about making the trip. It might make more people stay home and bite the airlines,” he said.
United Airlines — which canceled hundreds of flights in December due to the huge number of crew members who contracted COVID-19 during the Omicron variable leave period — said it is currently experiencing no disruptions related to COVID-19 infection of crew members.
However, US airlines are preparing for the same surge in COVID-19 cases as Europe and could experience major schedule disruptions if the virus wipes out large numbers of crew members in the coming weeks.
“There is a risk that we may see some of that in North America and it all depends on case rates,” said Rob Morris, president of Ascend by Cirium, an airline analytics and advisory agency. “But it will be relatively short term because airlines will adjust their ability to manage demand and protect the integrity of their network.”
Although staff shortages linked to high rates of COVID-19 in Europe are disrupting other sectors, they are particularly acute in the aviation industry.
“It’s very clear that the airline industry is particularly vulnerable, and that creates a more ripple effect on society than, say, the closing of a restaurant,” said Vigel Ding. “This is critical infrastructure and these are essential employees, and we are putting our economy at risk. Stopping COVID is good for our economy, and ‘letting it rip’ is just the opposite.”
Other airlines that have dropped mask rules are also canceling more flights than usual. On flights operated by London-based British Airways, masks have been optional for staff and passengers since March 16. Twitter By sharing a video of a flight attendant excitedly tearing off a surgical mask.
Between March 28 and April 3, British Airways canceled 393 out of 2,405 flights that were scheduled to depart from the UK, according to Cerium.
A British Airways spokesperson said only a small share of its recently canceled flights have been canceled due to COVID-19. The airline on Tuesday canceled three flights at the last minute due to individuals testing positive for the disease, the spokesperson said, adding that some of the cancellations resulted from rebuilding issues “while managing the ongoing impact of COVID.”
“Therefore, while the vast majority of our flights continue to operate as planned, as a precaution, we have scaled back our schedule slightly between now and the end of May with an increase in the number of standby flights,” the spokesperson said.
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