United Cancels Flights After Thousands Test Positive for COVID Despite Zero Staff Deaths

United Airlines canceled thousands of flights over the holidays due to an excessive surge in coronavirus cases among staff and crew but proudly reported that there have been zero employee deaths or hospitalizations in the last eight months.

In an open letter to all employees, CEO Scott Kirby defined the impact of the Omicron surge and shared that roughly 3,000 United employees are currently sick with COVID.

"Just as an example, in one day alone at Newark, nearly one-third of our workforce called out sick," he wrote. "To those who are out sick or isolating, we wish you a speedy recovery."

The nation's struggle with the new surge has forced several major airlines to cancel thousands of flights, and United reportedly canceled over 600 flights in the last three days alone, according to FlightAware.com figures.

Kirby wrote in his letter, "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 affected customers in advance of them coming to the airport."

Despite the high volume of sick workers, the CEO tried to shine a brighter light on the subject.

"While we have about 3,000 employees who are currently positive for COVID,
zero of our vaccinated employees are currently hospitalized," he wrote.

In August of last year, Kirby announced that all U.S.-based employees would be required to show proof of vaccination by no later than October, a decision that he believed to be "a no-brainer."

Kirby told Axios in August, "For me, the fact that people are 300 times more likely to die if they're unvaccinated is all I need to know.… It's about saving lives."

His decision, his letter states, is vindicated now more than ever: "Prior to our vaccine requirement, tragically, more than one United employee on average *per week* was dying from COVID. But we've now gone eight straight weeks with zero COVID-related deaths among our vaccinated employees."

"In dealing with COVID," the CEO added, "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."

The airline has seen significant staff shortages in recent weeks and announced last week that they would be paying pilots triple their usual pay to take on open flights this month. Other airlines, like JetBlue, American, Spirit and Southwest each offered their cabin crews similar compensation.

Newsweek reached out to a United spokesperson, who provided the statement from CEO Kirby.

Airplanes at Newark Liberty International Airport in
United Airlines sees hundreds of flights canceled as roughly 3,000 employees test positive for COVID, but there have been zero employee deaths or hospitalizations in the last eight months, according to CEO Scott Kirby. Above, a United Airlines airplane proceeds to a gate at Newark Liberty International Airport on December 13, 2021, in Newark, New Jersey. Gary Hershorn/Getty Images