Surge of Omicron infections force airlines to cancel domestic and international flights
Latam Airlines has warned the Cuenca airport authority to expect more flight cancellations as dozens of its Ecuador-based employees are sick with Covid. The airline has cancelled four flights since Sunday and says it may be forced to cancel one to two daily flights to Quito until further notice due to mounting illnesses.
The cancellations are also affecting Guayaquil and Manta flights and Latam says it does not know when its schedule will return to normal. “We face an unprecedented number of illnesses among our ground and air crews, most of them a result of the Covid-19 Omicron variant,” the airline said in a statement. “This is the case in all of our service hubs, both domestically and internationally. Unfortunately, we are unable to reschedule some of the cancelled flights.”
Late Thursday, Ecuador’s second largest airline, Avianca, reported that it will also cancel flights as a result of increased Covid cases but it did not say which markets would be affected.
Hundreds of passengers across the country have been stranded by the cancellations, with many complaining to airport officials that they have no option but to bus to their destinations. A spokesman for the General Civil Aviation office called the situation “unavoidable” given the surge of Omicron and urged patience for those missing their flights.
In its statement, Latam said that staff illnesses, both in Ecuador and abroad, appear consistent with Omicron infections. “In most of the illnesses, the symptoms are those described by the World Health Organization for Omicron. Currently, we have hundreds of employees on sick leave in our network, with most of them out for five to seven days. Fortunately, none of our employees have died and few have required hospitalization. This is a different form of Covid than we faced in 2020 and in 2021.”
International airlines that serve Ecuador, including U.S.-based American and Delta, have also cancelled flights due to excess illnesses. Like Latam, they say none of their workers have died during the current surge. “We regret the inconvenience to the flying public but the cancellations cannot be avoided due to illnesses among our crews,” Delta said in a statement. “We are encouraged, however, that the illnesses are less severe than those we suffered in earlier outbreaks.”
In a Thursday radio interview, Health Minister Ximena Garzón said that “thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands” are currently ill with the Omicron variant in Ecuador. “It is creating severe staffing problems for government functions, such as the police and hospital staffs, as well as for private businesses,” she said. “The good news is that we are seeing fewer severe cases than we did earlier and most of our hospitals still have beds available.”
She added that she expects the Omicron surge to peak in 10 days to two weeks and says cases will drop rapidly after that.