Airlines that dropped mask requirements are now suffering staff shortages due to COVID-19

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Overseas airways are having to cancel lots of of flights as they grapple with coronavirus-related staffing shortages weeks after they ditched guidelines requiring passengers and staff to mask up within the air.  

The disruptions additionally come because the CEOs of main U.S. airways urge the Biden administration to roll again a federal rule requiring that masks be worn within the sky. 

Masks haven’t been required on flights operated by budget-friendly, Swiss airline EasyJet since March 27, the airline said in an announcement. The transfer got here after the UK eliminated all journey restrictions earlier in March. 

“This welcome move by the UK Government marks a return to truly restriction-free flying to and from the UK, giving an extra boost to travel this Easter. We are looking ahead to what we expect to be a strong summer for EasyJet, with plans to return to near 2019 levels of flying. We can’t wait to welcome more customers back on board,” EasyJet CEO Johan Lundgren stated in an announcement on the time.

Between March 28 and April 3, EasyJet cancelled 202 of its 3,517 flights scheduled to depart from the UK, in accordance to information offered to CBS MoneyWatch from Cirium, an aviation analytics company. By comparability, the provider cancelled zero flights departing from the UK throughout the identical interval in 2019, earlier than the pandemic.

An EasyJet spokesperson attributed the rise in cancelled flights to “higher than usual staff sickness levels” due to a current surge in COVID-19 instances throughout Europe. 

“As a result, we have made pre-emptive cancellations so customers can be notified in advance of travel and are able to move easily onto alternative flights,” the spokesperson stated in an announcement to CBS MoneyWatch.

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According to Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and well being economist at Harvard Chan School of Public Health, such flight cancellations have been all however assured as soon as passengers and crew members took off their masks. 

“So damn predictable — UK govt drops restrictions, airlines like @easyJet drops masks … and less than 2 weeks later … huge spike in pilots and flight attendants out sick with #COVID19 unable to work, and 120 flights cancelled! Airline CEOs asked for this,” he stated on Twitter. 

SO DAMN PREDICTABLE—UK 🇬🇧 govt drops restrictions, airways like @easyJet drops masks… and fewer than 2 weeks later… large spike in pilots and flight attendants out sick with #COVID19 unable to work, and 120 flights cancelled! Airline CEOs requested for this. https://t.co/zVOc2g2KzS pic.twitter.com/YWD7XIOodl

— Eric Feigl-Ding (@DrEricDing) April 4, 2022

The same transfer by U.S. airways “would backfire in many ways,” Feigl-Ding advised CBS MoneyWatch. He thinks extra passengers would hesitate to fly if airways ditch mask guidelines. “If there are no masks, that actually makes people more worried about taking the trip. It might make more people stay home and bite the airlines,” he stated. 

United Airlines — which scrapped lots of of flights in December due to an amazing variety of crew members contracting COVID-19 throughout a vacation surge of the Omicron variant — stated it isn’t presently experiencing any disruptions associated to crew members being contaminated with COVID-19. 

Still, airways within the U.S. are bracing for a similar surge in COVID-19 instances that Europe is experiencing and will see main schedule disruptions if the virus wipes out important numbers of crew members within the coming weeks. 

“There is risk we may see some of that in North America and it’s all dependent on case rates,” stated Rob Morris, head of Ascend by Cirium, an airline analytics and consulting company. “But it will be relatively short-term because airlines will adjust their capacity to manage demand and protect their network integrity.”

Although staffing shortages associated to rising COVID-19 charges in Europe are disrupting different sectors, they’re notably acute within the airline trade. 

“It’s very clear that the airline industry is particularly vulnerable, and this creates a cascading effect on society more than, say, a restaurant closing would,” Feigl-Ding stated. “This is critical infrastructure and these are essential employees, and we’re endangering our economy. Stopping COVID is good for our economy, ‘letting it rip’ is the exact opposite.”

Other airways that have dropped mask guidelines are additionally cancelling extra flights than regular. On flights operated by London, England-based airline British Airways, masks have been elective for staff and passengers since March 16. The airline made the announcement on Twitter by sharing a video of a flight attendant enthusiastically tearing off a surgical mask.

Between March 28 and April 3, British Airways cancelled 393 of two,405 flights scheduled to depart from the UK, in accordance to Cirium. 

From 16 March, our face mask coverage is altering.

Where we’re clear the vacation spot you’re travelling to doesn’t require a face mask on board, it’s going to change into elective 😷 ✈️

Please proceed to respect fellow passengers’ mask preferences in these situations.#BritishAirways pic.twitter.com/vgh5ws7DfO

— British Airways (@British_Airways) March 15, 2022

A British Airways spokesperson stated that solely a small share of its lately cancelled flights have been scrapped due to COVID-19. The spokesperson stated the airline on Tuesday cancelled three flights on the final minute due to personnel testing constructive for the illness, including that a number of the cancellations stemmed from points associated to rebuilding “operations while managing the continuing impact of COVID.”

“So while the vast majority of our flights continue to operate as planned, as a precaution we’ve slightly reduced our schedule between now and the end of May as we ramp back up,” the spokesperson stated.