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United Airlines' CEO Just Gave This Worrying COVID Update

Major flight cuts and cancellations have continued for nearly a month.

The last month has been chaos for travelers across the U.S. Major airlines have been forced to delay and cancel flights since Christmas weekend due to a combination of dangerous winter weather and staff shortages brought on by the fast-spreading Omicron variant. Up until Jan. 10, there had been more than 1,000 daily flight cancellations for 15 consecutive days, according to The Washington Post. And while the rate is starting to slow, cancellations are still in the high hundreds each day, and many airlines are warning that the problem is far from over. In fact, United Airlines' CEO just gave a worrying update amid Omicron's continued surge. Read on to find out what the airline head has to say about the current COVID situation.

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Thousands of United employees are currently out sick with COVID.

untied flight attendant helping passengers

As with every other airline, United Airlines has had to cancel a staggering number of flights since Christmas weekend as the Omicron variant continues to circulate. In a memo to employees, United CEO Scott Kirby gave insight into just how worrying the company's situation is right now. According to Kirby, 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.

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Staff shortages are affecting some of the airline's largest hubs.

Newark, United States - September 6, 2016: Passenger jets belonging to United Airlines parked at gates 91 to 98 at Terminal C, Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), New Jersey. The jets are being serviced, loaded/unloaded and refuelled on the runway apron. In the mid-distance a UPS freight jet is approaching the runway to land. In the far distance is the skyline of Manhattan, New York.

While staff shortages are spread throughout the country, some airports are getting hit extremely hard. "Just as an example, in one day alone at Newark [New Jersey], nearly one-third of our workforce called out sick," Kirby said in the memo. Newark Liberty International Airport is one of United's eight hubs, servicing hundreds of flights from the airline every day.

"Our frontline teams continue to put in a tremendous effort during what I know is an incredibly challenging and stressful time—the Omicron surge has put a strain on our operation, resulting in customer disruptions during a busy holiday season," Kirby said, per The New York Times.

United is planning to cut more flights to deal with this issue.

CHICAGO, IL -7 APR 2017- Airplanes from United Airlines (UA) at the Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD). The CEO of United, headquartered in Chicago, is Oscar Munoz.

On Jan. 11, United had to cancel 154 of its flights, which accounted for 7 percent of its daily schedule, according to Flight Aware, a real-time flight tracking website. In a memo posted to the company's website that same day, Kirby indicated that these cancellations were inevitable, despite United working to minimize damage.

"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," he said.

In order to help United continue to be able to "get a high percentage of [its] customers on other flights and close to their original arrival time," the airline will be cutting even more flights in the near future to mitigate troubles from staffing shortages. "We're also reducing our near-term schedules to make sure we have the staffing and resources to take care of customers," Kirby said.

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United has one of the strictest vaccine mandates.

Doctor Preparing a Patients Vaccine Syringe

In August, United Airlines became the first major U.S. airline to require that employees get vaccinated against COVID or face termination. To date, United has one of the strictest requirements of any airline. In October, Kirby confirmed that the company was currently in the process of terminating a total of 232 U.S. employees who were still unvaccinated. Six of these workers were pilots for United, according to Business Insider.

More than 96 percent of United's staff is vaccinated as of Jan. 2022, Kirby confirmed to CNBC. The CEO said it's important to note that none of the airline's 3,000 COVID-positive employees who are also vaccinated are hospitalized. Prior to United's vaccine requirement, more than one airline employee had died from COVID on average per week, but the airline has now gone eight consecutive weeks without a COVID-related death among its vaccinated employees.

"In dealing with COVID, zero is the word that matters—zero deaths and zero hospitalizations for vaccinated employees. And while I know that some people still disagree with our policy, United is proving that requiring the vaccine is the right thing to do because it saves lives," Kirby said in his Jan. 11 memo.

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Kali Coleman
Kali Coleman is a Senior Editor at Best Life. Her primary focus is covering news, where she often keeps readers informed on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and up-to-date on the latest retail closures. Read more
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