Television staff

Stuck passengers, sick staff, negative tests to enter the United States

Thousands of flights around the world were canceled last weekend as the Omicron variant collided with wintry weather. A major snowstorm has blocked flights in the Midwest and East Coast. Americans who went abroad had to show a negative COVID test before they could return home. And already short-staffed airlines treated workers who tested positive.

“Airline employees are calling in sick. … They can’t be pilots or flight attendants or gate agents. And the airlines have been trying to get as many flights as possible,” says Brian Sumers, editor of Skift.

He adds: “Very few airlines come out unscathed.”

That means passengers get stuck where they’re not supposed to be, Sumers says.

“Let’s hope it’s a phenomenon that only happens once a century. I mean, think about how many people are testing positive for COVID right now. We have never seen anything like it. Why do you expect airlines to work perfectly when absolutely nothing else does? But let’s not bring the airlines too much for what’s going on here.

Dr. Anthony Fauci recently suggested airlines should perhaps impose a vaccine requirement to fly, but Sumers says that sounds like a political question. “The airlines absolutely do not want to participate in this. If the government decides that is a requirement, it will meet it. But airlines don’t want to ask people if they’ve been vaccinated to fly.

If Americans want to leave the country, Sumers suggests, that’s a bad idea. He went to Mexico with his family for the holidays and was nervous the whole time, he admits.

Everyone entering the United States — citizen or alien — must now take an antigen test one calendar day before arrival. If you test positive, the US government requires you to wait 10 days before you can try to return, he explains.

“We hear stories everywhere of Americans stranded abroad. Maybe they are asymptomatic, maybe they have cold symptoms, the government doesn’t care. You can’t re-enter the country if you test positive for COVID, at least until you’re cleared by a doctor, and that’s a period of about 10 days.

If you have COVID and you are in an authoritarian regime, this government might want to watch you closely and take you to a quarantine hotel, and if you are in a place like Mexico, you are alone while waiting for your antigen test to erase, says Sumers.

For people who bought tickets but decided not to go through with their travel plans, they can’t get their money back unless they booked a specifically refundable ticket or the airline canceled their flight.

But Sumers notes, “The only bright spot from COVID is that the airline switching fees have generally disappeared. So you had to pay up to $200 to change your ticket. Now the airlines said, “Listen, if you don’t want to fly for any reason, let us know in advance.” And you can use the value of that ticket up to probably a year in advance. So a lot of people are canceling now, they don’t lose money like before. They will just have to fly again at some point in 2022.”