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Airline Services Impacted By COVID-19 Cases Among Employees

By Dave Simpson

Services by airlines Aeromexico and United have been impacted by COVID-19 cases among staff members.

Aeromexico Halts Some Flights As COVID-19 'Domino Effect' Hits Crews -Union

More than 70 Grupo Aeromexico pilots have tested positive for the COVID-19 during a surge of infections from the Omicron variant of the virus, leading to 22 cancelled flights, a union that represents pilots of the Mexican airline said.

Jose Suarez, press secretary for pilots' association ASPA, told television station Milenio the cases triggered a "domino effect," forcing Aeromexico to isolate entire crews to prevent the virus from spreading.

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ASPA Secretary General Jose Gual told the same TV station that the pilots who tested positive made up 5% of Aeromexico pilots represented by ASPA.

He added the cancellations represented 5% of Aeromexico's operations and affected planes heading to the Mexican cities of Guadalajara, Cancun and Monterrey, plus an international flight.

Among Aeromexico's flight attendants, 140 had tested positive, according to a statement on by the Trade Union Association of Aviation Flight Attendants of Mexico (ASSA).

An additional 65 of the company's flight attendants were suspended for not having the valid travel documents, ASSA said.

The absent workers represent 10.3% of the airline's staff, the statement added.

"We are seeing a quite severe wave of infections," ASPA's Gual said. He attributed the jump to the highly contagious Omicron variant that has caused airlines around the world to cancel hundreds of flights during the busy winter travel season.

Aeromexico said that the new spread of COVID-19 had affected "some flights," without providing details.

"The safety of our customers and collaborators is and will always be the main priority," Aeromexico said in a statement.

The company did not respond to questions about COVID-19 cases among its pilots and crew members, or about exactly how many flights had been canceled.

Mexico is likely to surpass 300,000 deaths as infections rise after the holiday season, fuelled by the Omicron variant and largely unrestricted tourism to Mexico City and beach destinations Cancun and Los Cabos.

United CEO: 4% Of U.S. Workforce Test Positive For COVID-19; No Deaths Among The Vaccinated

Meanwhile, United Airlines has said that approximately 4% of its U.S. employees, or approximately 3,000 workers, have tested positive for COVID-19 but vaccinated employees have neither died nor recently been hospitalised with the virus.

United's disclosure comes amid soaring cases. On Friday January 7, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments to challenges to President Joe Biden's vaccine or testing mandate for companies with more than 100 employees.

COVID-19 cases and quarantines are impacting staffing and hitting flight schedules. U.S. airlines have cancelled more than 30,000 flights since late December over weather and COVID-19 staffing issues.

United Airlines chief executive Scott Kirby said that the airline was "reducing our near-term schedules to make sure we have the staffing and resources to take care of customers."

United cancelled 149 flights on Tuesday January 11, or 7% of its flights, according to FlightAware.com.

Chicago-based United was the first U.S. carrier to mandate vaccines for its employees in order to facilitate travel and flight operations.

Kirby said that "the Omicron surge has put a strain on our operation ... Just as an example, in one day alone at Newark, nearly one-third of our workforce called out sick."

Kirby said in a memo on Tuesday January 11 that "since our vaccine policy went into effect, the hospitalization rate among our employees has been 100x lower than the general population in the U.S."

Before United's vaccination requirements were put in place, "tragically, more than one United employee on average *per week* was dying from COVID," Kirby said. "But we’ve now gone eight straight weeks with zero COVID-related deaths among our vaccinated employees."

He added, "While we have about 3,000 employees who are currently positive for COVID, zero of our vaccinated employees are currently hospitalised."

United’s prior experience and nationwide COVID data suggests that "there are approximately 8-10 United employees who are alive today because of our vaccine requirement," said Kirby.

Last month, Kirby defended the airline's vaccine mandate decision in the face of Republican criticism.

"We did this for safety," Kirby said at a U.S. Senate hearing. "We don't compromise on safety."

Kirby said last month that approximately 200 employees did not comply with United's mandate and were fired out of its 67,000 employees.

Rival American Airlines said on Friday January 7 that more than 96% of its employees have submitted proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a request for an accommodation.

Last month, Delta Air Lines asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to soften quarantine guidelines for fully vaccinated individuals who experience breakthrough COVID-19 infections, warning the long quarantines may "significantly impact our workforce and operations." Other airlines followed Delta's request.

The CDC last month agreed to shorten the recommended isolation time to five days from the previous guidance of 10 days.

News by Reuters, edited by Hospitality Ireland. Click subscribe to sign up for the Hospitality Ireland print edition.

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