Delta Air Lines' CEO Just Warned of "Difficult" Weeks Ahead
The Omicron variant is still likely to affect air travel for some time.
The past two years have been a rocky time for air travel. Major airlines have had to continuously adapt to the ongoing pandemic and over the last month, most have been forced to cancel flights as a result of the Omicron variant. Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian has been alerting travelers to the issues impacting air travel. In November, he warned that passengers will likely have to pay a lot more for flights soon because of climate change. Then in late December, he said that staffing shortages were likely to "significantly impact" flight operations, which has played out over the last month. Now in a new interview, Bastian warned that the next few weeks will also be challenging. Read on to find out more about what the airline head had to say about air travel in the near future.
Thousands of Delta employees have been out sick with COVID.
During a Jan. 13 interview on CNBC's Squawk Box, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian discussed the last few weeks amid the spread of Omicron and how his airline has fared. According to Bastian, about 8,000 of Delta's 75,000 employees have tested positive for COVID sometime in the last four weeks as a result of the fast-spreading variant.
"Omicron, as I indicated, has impacted all of us," he said. "Good news is that [the infected employees] were all fine. There's been no significant health issues that we've seen from it. But it's knocked them out of the operation for a period of time, at the same time that we had the busiest travel that we have seen in two years. So the confluence of those two events could not have happened at a worse time."
Delta's CEO said that it will take weeks for travel to rebound from Omicron.
According to Bastian, the biggest impact of Omicron on Delta has already passed. "We believe the worst is behind us and we just need to navigate to get through this as a society," he told CNBC's Phil LeBeau. But the airline CEO said things are still going to be rocky in the upcoming weeks because of the fast-spreading variant. Bastian said airline bookings for Delta are likely not going to return to normal until around and after President's Day in mid-February.
"The next four to six weeks is going to be difficult," he said. "January and the first half of February … are always the weakest parts of our travel calendar and with Omicron coming out at the same time, it's going to make it that much more weaker."
He does not expect for there to be another surge in flight cancellations.
As a result of so many employees having to call out sick with COVID this last month, Delta was forced to cancel a staggering number of flights. According to Newsweek, the airline has had to cancel more than 2,200 flights since Christmas Eve. But Bastian told LeBeau that it doesn't appear that there will be nearly as many flights cuts in the coming weeks, as operations seem to have stabilized. This is partly because Omicron cases are coming down, especially among Delta staff.
"Over the course of the last week, those cancellations are way down … We've only seen about 1 percent cancellations over the last seven days due to Omicron. And in fact, yesterday, we only had two cancellations the entire day for the mainline out of 2,500 operations due to Omicron," Bastian said.
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Delta is not the only airline struggling right now.
Almost every major U.S. airline is feeling the affects of the Omicron variant. In a recent memo to employees, United CEO Scott Kirby said the airline has about 3,000 workers who are currently out of work because they are positive for COVID, CNBC reported. That is close to 4 percent of United's entire U.S. workforce. But unlike Delta, Kirby said the airline is likely to drop more flights because of these staffing struggles.
"While we go to great lengths to avoid cancelling flights, we worked to get ahead of the impact by acting early to cancel flights when necessary and notifying impacted customers in advance of them coming to the airport," Kirby said in his memo. "We're also reducing our near-term schedules to make sure we have the staffing and resources to take care of customers."