Thousands of flights canceled around the world due to rising infections among airline workers


Nearly 3,000 flights were canceled around the world on Monday, including nearly 1,000 to, from or within the United States, according to aviation tracking site FlightAware. The cancellations, along with nearly 11,000 delays on the same day, were largely due to the shortage of flight crews and ground support personnel caused by the spread of COVID-19 infections.

Travelers check-in for flights at Miami International Airport on Monday, December 27, 2021 (AP Photo / Rebecca Blackwell)

Globally, airlines have canceled more than 6,000 flights on Christmas Eve, Christmas Eve and Boxing Day. That included at least 2,800 US flights over the weekend as pilots, flight attendants and other airline workers became ill.

The Biden administration has said air travel is safe, despite the explosive spread of the Omicron variant, millions of air travelers have crammed into crowded airports over the holiday weekend. That included a peak of 2.19 million passengers who passed through security checkpoints at U.S. airports on December 23 alone.

A Southwest Airlines flight attendant told the World Socialist Website that she was forced to work during the holidays after being infected with COVID-19. “I worked on December 21 and 22, which I believe is when I was exposed as there were several passengers who were not wearing their masks properly. All we’re supposed to do now is make an announcement [about wearing masks] and that’s it, ”she said.

“I was experiencing symptoms on the night of the 24th. I went to work on the 25th, but as the day progressed, I became more and more ill,” she continued. The flight attendant, who requested that she be identified by a pseudonym “Jodi” to protect her from retaliation from management, said that while she had not traveled with colleagues who assisted her, “I don’t think I would have done this.”

“I did everything I was supposed to do, I got the shot, I got the booster, I got the shot three times,” she said. Due to her COVID-19 infection, Jodi was taken off the rest of her weekday schedule, meaning she effectively lost triple vacation pay for the year.

“I called the [Transport Workers Union] today they did not respond and i have been waiting forever. I will know tomorrow if I will receive my bonus. For me, that’s $ 6,000 lost.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Monday it was reducing the recommended time frame for isolating infected people from 10 days to five days if they are asymptomatic. The quarantine period for a person exposed to an infected person has also been reduced to five days if they are vaccinated, the CDC said, and fully vaccinated and stimulated people may not need to get into the hospital at all. quarantine.

The CDC made its decision after direct requests from the airlines. As CNBC reported, “Delta CEO Ed Bastian wrote to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky [on December 21], urging the agency to cut that time in half to just five days, saying the longer quarantine period could hurt the airline’s operations. JetBlue Airways CEO Robin Hayes made a similar request to the CDC on Wednesday. “

Airlines for America, a trade group for US airlines, wrote to Walensky on December 23, asking the agency to “update” its current 10-day isolation directive, Barron reported. “As with the healthcare, police, fire and public transport workforce, Omicron’s push may exacerbate staff shortages and create significant disruption to our workforce and operations,” wrote Nicholas Calio, CEO of Airlines for America.

On NBC Nightly News Monday, reporter Kristen Welker asked Biden’s senior COVID-19 adviser, Dr Anthony Fauci, “What do you say to people who might be concerned that the revised quarantine guidelines are driven solely by shortages?” workers and not necessarily in the best public health interest? Fauci replied, “No, actually, we think it’s safe to do so. If you look at the odds of getting transmission in this second half of that 10 day period, it is significantly lower than in the first few days. So overall, if you look at public safety and the need not to disrupt society, this was a good choice. “

Walensky echoed the administration’s talking points, saying, “We want to make sure that there is a mechanism by which we can safely continue to keep society running while following science.”

The changes to the CDC’s guidelines, which follow similar steps for chronically understaffed hospital staff, have nothing to do with public health considerations. On the contrary, they will only increase the risk of massive infections, long-term physical and mental debilitation and death. Saving lives, as opposed to “keeping society running” – a euphemism for keeping the economy open and generating profits for Wall Street – would require the temporary suspension of non-essential travel, business activities, and in-person schooling to cut off the transmission of the virus as part of a strategy to finally eliminate and eradicate it.

What worries the White House is to maintain profitability, regardless of the cost in human lives. The action of the CDC aims to consolidate the positions of American airlines, United and other American whose stocks continued to decline Monday in parallel with the number of flights they were forced to cancel.

The labor shortage in airlines as in other industries has been largely due to mass retirements encouraged by large companies to reduce costs and increase profits. Millions of nurses, teachers, transit workers, airline workers and others have decided to quit rather than risk their lives and the lives of their loved ones by working in dangerous workplaces.

Since the start of the pandemic, the US Congress has handed over $ 54 billion to US airlines, more than any other industry. This included a $ 25 billion bailout through the March 2020 CARES bill, $ 15 billion in the December 2020 relief bill, and an additional $ 14 billion in the 2021 US bailout. Another $ 5 billion was paid to contractors who perform food service, janitorial, maintenance and other work for airlines.

While much of the money went through the Payroll Support Program (PSP), which was ostensibly designed to prevent layoffs, airlines nonetheless forced tens of thousands of workers into “voluntary” buyouts. and early retirement. More than 80,000 airline workers have been laid off or lost their jobs, and in November the airlines had 24,000 fewer employees than in 2019.

Far from opposing the attack on workers, airline unions have blocked any unified struggle to shut down the industry and protect lives. After the CDC’s decision, Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants and a leading member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), said it “was less than reassuring” that the CDC’s change of direction “had taken place. aligns with the number of days pushed by American companies… ”

However, she praised the CDC for adding warnings that “acknowledge the concerns raised by our union,” highlighting the reduction of the quarantine to five days “only if asymptomatic and with continued mask wear for five days. additional ”. Knowing that this would not impress any airline employee, Nelson continued, “If a company pressures an employee to return to work before they feel better, we will make it clear that it is. a dangerous working environment, which will cause a much greater disruption than any other. »Staff shortage.

This is empty bluster. The AFA, TWU and other airline unions have joined together in the attack on jobs, the build-up of extra jobs for workers and the still unsafe working conditions in the industry. That is why airline workers should join the growing network of national and international grassroots committees to pull the leadership of the struggle out of the hands of pro-business unions and fight to end the continuing sacrifice of life and means of subsistence of workers. for the benefit of the company.


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