United cuts flights as about 3,000 workers call out sick from Covid

Key Points
  • Several airlines have been reducing their schedules since the end of the year because of the Covid variant omicron.
  • United and Southwest are among the airlines offering pilots extra pay to pick up trips in January.
  • Airlines canceled thousands of flights since the year-end holidays because of winter storms and Covid rates among crews.
Travelers wait to check in at the United Airlines ticket counter at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., on Monday, Dec. 27, 2021.
Elijah Nouvelage | Bloomberg | Getty Images

United Airlines is trimming its schedule to address a surge in sick calls among employees, CEO Scott Kirby told employees.

U.S. airlines canceled thousands of flights over the year-end holidays through early this year due to Covid infections among crews and a series of winter storms. United first cut some flights before Christmas.

JetBlue Airways was the first carrier to cut back its January schedule because of a surge in infection rates among crews, which was later followed by Alaska Airlines. American Airlines said it would do the same this week as Covid rates climbed among regional carriers.

The adjustments are the latest move by an airline to cope with the rapid spread of the omicron variant.

Kirby said in a memo published on the company's website Monday that United is "reducing our near-term schedules to make sure we have the staffing and resources to take care of customers." A spokeswoman on Tuesday declined to say how many flights the carrier is canceling.

We are relatively optimistic on airline stocks in 2022, says MKM Partners' Cunningham
We are relatively optimistic on airline stocks in 2022, says MKM Partners' Cunningham

United has about 3,000 workers who are currently positive for Covid, Kirby said in the staff memo. That is about 4% of its U.S. workforce.

"Just as an example, in one day alone at Newark [New Jersey], nearly one-third of our workforce called out sick," Kirby said. He said that none of the carrier's vaccinated employees, which make up more than 96% of its staff, are hospitalized and that it hasn't had a Covid-related death among inoculated employees in eight weeks.

United on Dec. 31 offered triple pay for pilots to pick up trips through most of January. The pilots' union said sick calls among aviators were at a record. Southwest Airlines also gave pilots incentive pay for this month.