JetBlue cuts 1,280 flights through mid-January amid omicron challenges

JetBlue Airways proactively cut about 1,280 flights beginning Thursday through mid-January in anticipation of more COVID-19 cases among its crew as the highly contagious omicron variant continues to drive record infections in the U.S.

The New York-based airline and several others like Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines have collectively canceled thousands of flights since Christmas Eve, citing staffing problems tied to the virus and severe winter weather.

"Like many businesses and organizations, we have seen a surge in the number of sick calls from Omicron," a JetBlue spokesperson said in a statement. "To give our customers give as much notice possible to make alternate plans and re-accommodate them on other flights, we are proactively reducing our schedule through January 13."

JetBlue said it’s also waiving change and cancel fees for all customers, including those with Blue Basic fares, who are flying through Jan. 31. Normally, Blue Basic customers are charged a fee. 

The planned JetBlue flight cuts are just under 10% of the airline’s daily schedule, according to CNBC.

Cancun International Airport

FILE - A JetBlue Airways plane is seen at Cancun International Airport on Dec. 8, 2021, in Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The move comes after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday shortened the recommended isolation time to five days from 10 for people who test positive for COVID-19 but are asymptomatic "or their symptoms are resolving" without a fever for 24 hours. 

JetBlue said the updated CDC guidelines "should help get crewmembers back to work sooner" and that the reduction of flights would help to ease day-of cancellations for travelers. 

"... We expect the number of COVID cases in the northeast – where most of our crewmembers are based – to continue to surge for the next week or two," the statement said. "This means there is a high likelihood of additional cancellations until case counts start to come down."

The statement added: "The health and safety of our crewmembers and customers remains our top priority as we work through this pandemic, and we sincerely apologize for the inconvenience that these schedule changes bring."

Flight delays and cancellations tied to staffing shortages have been a regular problem for the U.S. airline industry this year. Airlines encouraged workers to quit in 2020, when air travel collapsed, and were caught short-staffed this year as travel recovered. 

Meanwhile, the fast-spreading omicron variant has forced communities to scale back or call off their Christmas and New Year’s festivities just weeks after it seemed as if Americans were about to enjoy an almost normal holiday season.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious-disease expert, said Wednesday that there is no need to cancel small home gatherings among vaccinated and boosted family and friends.

But "if your plans are to go to a 40- to 50-person New Year’s Eve party with all the bells and whistles and everybody hugging and kissing and wishing each other a happy new year, I would strongly recommend that this year we not do that," he said.

RELATED: Mobile driver’s license: TSA prepares to accept digital ID at airports in 2022

This story was reported from Cincinnati. The Associated Press contributed.