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Investors look at past cancellations of airline flights on holidays

Airline pilots pass through Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on December 27, 2021 in Arlington, Virginia.

Anna Moneymaker | Getty Images

Airline investors appeared to have been oblivious to the thousands of US flight cancellations over the holidays, even as disruptions continued on Monday.

On Monday, carriers cleaned up more than 1,700 flights to the U.S. and more than 5,400 over the weekend, largely due to harsh winter weather hampering some of the nation’s busiest airports. However, the disruptions were being sorted out: on Tuesday, about 250 flights were canceled.

Over the holidays, carriers including Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and JetBlue Airways said crews are increasingly sick from the rapidly spreading omicron variant of Covid. The Federal Aviation Administration also warned of delays as its employees are increasingly being tested for the coronavirus.

United, Spirit and Alaska are some of the airlines offering additional fare for crews.

Airlines canceled more than 13,000 flights, or 5.6% of the schedule, between Christmas Eve and New Years, according to FlightAware. That increased to over 12% of flights on Saturday when a winter storm hit the Midwest.

Airline stocks, however, surged premarket, a sign that investors are looking forward to the end of the year when travel demand is expected to rise.

The cost of the disruptions is not yet clear. The holiday period was critical for carriers, whose executives expected some of the busiest days since the start of the pandemic.

The option could pose a “moderate short-term risk” for airlines due to staff quarantines and the likelihood of some customers postponing flights, Citigroup airlines analyst Stephen Trent wrote on Monday.

“However, higher vaccination rates and the emergence of new antiviral drugs are just some of the factors that could make the negative reaction of stock prices to the emergence of future options increasingly unjustified,” he said.

Shares of American, United and Alaska gained about 1% premarket. Southwest Airlines, which canceled hundreds of flights on weekends, rose 0.5%.

Delta publishes quarterly income statements on January 13th.


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