JetBlue became the second major U.S. airline to write to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Dr Rochelle Walensky urging her to reduce the recommended quarantine period for COVID breakthrough cases on Wednesday.
Raising the spectre of disruption to essential services that could occur if quarantine periods aren’t shortened, jetBlue chief executive Robin Hayes pleaded with the CDC to urgently review its current guidance.
The Omicron variant is already ripping through New York City and causing a surge of new infections across the United States. The variant is so highly transmissible that essential services could be curtailed because so many workers could be stuck in isolation at the same time.
JetBlue and Delta Air Lines are already experiencing employees shortages and both are looking nervously looking across the Atlantic where British Airways is being forced to cancel flights because of Omicron-induced staffing woes.
On Tuesday, Delta chief executive Ed Bastian wrote to the CDC and suggested the existing 10-day isolation guidance could be safely reduced to just five days.
Citing emerging evidence about the Omicron variant, Bastian claimed the faster incubation period compared to previous variants meant the current recommendation was outdated.
Both Bastian and Hayes criticized the CDC for not tailoring isolation guidance for those who are fully vaccinated and are more likely to recover faster from COVID-19 than those who aren’t vaccinated. Bastian proposed releasing people from isolation earlier if they test negative after five days.
The United Kingdom has completed an urgent review of its own 10-day isolation policy and decided on Wednesday to cut the quarantine length to just seven days. To be eligible for the reduced isolation period, fully vaccinated people must self-test negative on both days six and seven.
The UK is trying to head off its own worker shortage as Omicron sends daily confirmed infection numbers over 100,000 for the first time since the start f the pandemic. Britain is several weeks ahead of the United States in the Omicron curve.
“Today, the vast majority of JetBlue’s Crewmembers are vaccinated and like so many others are being relied upon by the American public for providing the essential service of travel,” the letter from Hayes to Dr Walenksy reads.
“Healthcare workers, first responders, airline professionals and many other essential employees across the economy who are fully vaccinated may no longer need a fully 10-day isolation,” the letter continues.
“We can safely mitigate disruption to our essential services and further economic harm during this Omicron wave by reducing the isolation period, from the start of symptoms, for those who are fully vaccinated and suffering from a breakthrough infection.”
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.