More than 1,200 US flights canceled on Thursday

A spike in COVID cases has decimated airlines and played havoc with New Year's travel plans for millions.

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Plane coming in for a landing at SFO

Crew and air-traffic control shortages from COVID-19 infections have led to more than 2,800 flights being canceled around the world Thursday.

James Martin/CNET

Staffing shortages caused by a spike in COVID cases has led to the cancellation of 1,224 flights within, into or out of the US on  Thursday, according to air-travel tracker site FlightAware.
Globally, more than 2,800 flights have been axed, following a similar number nixed on Wednesday. Some flights may be delayed or canceled by a lack of healthy air-traffic control staff, the Federal Aviation Administration told the Wall Street Journal.

The end of the year is typically the busiest time for airlines, but the COVID-19 pandemic has played havoc with holiday travel plans: More than 6,000 scheduled flights were canceled over the Christmas weekend alone, CNN reported

On Thursday afternoon, United had grounded some 198 flights, representing 9% of its total schedule, and another 338 were delayed to various degrees. Delta expected to cancel about 250, or 6%, of its flights scheduled for Thursday, according to the Journal.

Budget carrier JetBlue has been particularly hard hit, canceling 175 flights, or 17% of its total roster by Thursday afternoon, with another 267 listed as delayed, according to FlightAware. The airline is reducing its schedule by about 1,280 flights through Jan. 13 because of crew members becoming infected with the new highly transmissible omicron COVID variant, an airline spokesperson told Reuters.

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

Read moreAt-home COVID-19 tests less effective at detecting omicron variant, FDA cautions

According to the JetBlue website, "the vast majority" of the company's crewmembers are vaccinated, and all customer-facing staffers are required to wear masks, but only new hires are required to be fully inoculated against COVID-19. 

The US is not currently considering a vaccine mandate for domestic travelers, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told NPR on Tuesday. 

Going into the New Year's weekend, some 538 US flights have already been canceled for Friday, according to FlightAware, and another 98 for Saturday (New Year's Day).