Alaska Air trims January flights to cope with virus outbreak

Associated Press

Alaska Airlines said Thursday it will trim its schedule by about 10% for the rest of January at it deals with “unprecedented” numbers of employees calling in sick during the current COVID-19 surge.

The move by Alaska is similar to a decision last week by JetBlue Airways to cut about 1,300 flights through mid-January.

Alaska Airlines planes are parked at gates with Mount Rainier in the background at sunrise, March 1, 2021, at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle.

Alaska’s announcement came on a day in which more than 1,800 U.S. flights were canceled by afternoon on the East Coast, according to FlightAware. The tracking service said that equaled about 8% of the day’s scheduled flights, and it was the 12th straight day of 1,000-plus cancellations, which airlines blamed on the virus surge and winter weather.

Worldwide, airlines had canceled about 4,300 flights.

Southwest continued to be the hardest hit among U.S. airlines, canceling more than 575 flights, or 19% of its schedule for Thursday. Alaska had scrubbed 120, or 17% of its flights.

The Seattle-based airline said in a statement that “the continued impacts of omicron have been disruptive in all our lives and unprecedented employee sick calls have impacted our ability to operate our airline reliably.” Alaska said reducing flights through the end of January “will give us the flexibility and capacity needed to reset.”

U.S. cancellations began rising on Christmas Eve and peaked Monday at more than 3,200 – about one in every eight flights. Besides cutting flights, airlines including United and Spirit have offered bonus pay to find employees willing to work extra days.