Delta Air Lines has preemptively cancelled just 83 flights on Tuesday – a mere 3% of its planned schedule – after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) slashed the isolation period for people who test positive for COVID-19 to just five days.
The Atlanta-based carrier had been one of the loudest voices in corporate America calling on the CDC to halve the recommended isolation period from 10-days. Delta has been forced to cancel hundreds of flights over the Christmas holidays because so many staff were in quarantine following a positive COVID-19 test.
In its updated guidance, the CDC went much further than what Delta chief executive Ed Bastian had called for. Bastian had suggested updated recommendations be limited to people who are fully vaccinated and any early exit from isolation be backed up with a negative rapid test.
Instead, the CDC halved the isolation period for everyone regardless of vaccination status. Considering the national failure over rapid testing, the CDC did not add a negative test requirement for early exit from isolation.
The changes were made on the back of new science that suggests people who catch COVID-19 are most infectious 1-2 days before symptom onset and 2-3 days after. By day 5, someone who has COVID-19 are thought to be far less infectious than first thought, even if they are still testing positive.
CDC Director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky admitted that the change was partly driven by a need to keep the economy going.
“The Omicron variant is spreading quickly and has the potential to impact all facets of our society. CDC’s updated recommendations for isolation and quarantine balance what we know about the spread of the virus and the protection provided by vaccination and booster doses,” commented Dr Walensky.
“These updates ensure people can safely continue their daily lives.”
Delta was one of the first companies out of the starting blocks to confirm it would be implementing the new guidance. The airline said the guidance would give it more “flexibility” to schedule crews who would otherwise be stuck at home.
Flight attendants and some other workgroups at Delta aren’t represented by a union but the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) slammed the decision saying it wasn’t reassured by the fact the CDC guidance aligned with what business had been calling for.
“There are two significant caveats in the guidance that recognize concerns raised by our union,” commented AFA President Sara Nelson. “CDC recommends reducing quarantine to five days only if asymptomatic and with continued mask wearing for an additional five days.” (editor note: the isolation period can also be reduced if symptoms are improving and no fever is present).
“If any business pressures a worker to return to work before they feel better we will make clear it an unsafe work environment, which will cause a much greater disruption than any ‘staffing shortage’.
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.