• ITVI.USA
    14,959.950
    116.940
    0.8%
  • OTLT.USA
    2.933
    0.012
    0.4%
  • OTRI.USA
    19.350
    0.220
    1.2%
  • OTVI.USA
    14,926.910
    120.050
    0.8%
  • TSTOPVRPM.ATLPHL
    2.910
    -0.050
    -1.7%
  • TSTOPVRPM.CHIATL
    3.790
    0.080
    2.2%
  • TSTOPVRPM.DALLAX
    1.460
    0.170
    13.2%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXDAL
    3.740
    0.020
    0.5%
  • TSTOPVRPM.PHLCHI
    2.270
    0.030
    1.3%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXSEA
    4.150
    -0.010
    -0.2%
  • WAIT.USA
    131.000
    -2.000
    -1.5%
  • ITVI.USA
    14,959.950
    116.940
    0.8%
  • OTLT.USA
    2.933
    0.012
    0.4%
  • OTRI.USA
    19.350
    0.220
    1.2%
  • OTVI.USA
    14,926.910
    120.050
    0.8%
  • TSTOPVRPM.ATLPHL
    2.910
    -0.050
    -1.7%
  • TSTOPVRPM.CHIATL
    3.790
    0.080
    2.2%
  • TSTOPVRPM.DALLAX
    1.460
    0.170
    13.2%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXDAL
    3.740
    0.020
    0.5%
  • TSTOPVRPM.PHLCHI
    2.270
    0.030
    1.3%
  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXSEA
    4.150
    -0.010
    -0.2%
  • WAIT.USA
    131.000
    -2.000
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Air CargoAmerican ShipperLess than TruckloadNewsParcelTop StoriesTrucking

FedEx air shipments delayed as omicron variant sickens pilots

Carrier diverts urgent freight shipments to trucking network

The rise in COVID infections fueled by the omicron variant and bad weather that has forced passenger airlines to cancel thousands of flights is now disrupting operations at FedEx Express.

The parcel and freight carrier warned Friday that staffing problems due to rising infection rates among pilots and ground personnel in its air network, combined with severe winter weather events, are slowing deliveries.

“We are implementing contingency plans and adjusting operations to minimize delays while continuing to provide the best possible service to our customers during these difficult times. Volume currently moving through the network will be prioritized for processing,” it said in a notice to customers.

Snow and ice have affected operations at FedEx Express’ global hub in Memphis, Tennessee, and other locations in the Midwest and eastern U.S.

An embargo on pickups for International Priority Freight was lifted Monday and deferred Premium Domestic FedEx Express Freight and International Economy Freight pickup is expected to resume Thursday, the notice said.

Alternative efforts to minimize delays include diverting shipments to FedEx’s heavy truck network.

Customers that need to move large shipments sooner are advised to divert domestic FedEx Express freight volume to FedEx’s less-than-truckload division, FedEx Freight, or another preferred LTL carrier. Critical shipments can also be upgraded to First Overnight Freight. And choose International parcel services instead of International Express freight services where possible, the company said.

Omicron hits airlines

The FedEx (NYSE: FDX) situation is a reminder that supply chains will continue to face disruptions from COVID outbreaks this year. In the air cargo sector, for example, Cathay Pacific suspended most cargo flights for a week and will only operate at about 20% of pre-pandemic during the first quarter because of stricter quarantine provisions in Hong Kong that are removing pilots from duty. 

Passenger airlines have been forced to cancel thousands of flights since late December because there isn’t sufficient personnel to cover for the many pilots and cabin crew calling out sick with COVID. Bad weather is worsening the situation by making it difficult to relocate available crew to locations that need replacements. 

Last Thursday, Alaska Airlines announced it will reduce its flight schedule through the end of January by 10% so it can stabilize operations and service reliability. The move follows JetBlue’s proactive cancellation of about 1,300 flights through January. 

Tight staffing levels due to downsizing during the height of the pandemic last year are a factor in the flight cancellations because airlines don’t have the ability to recover as quickly as normal. Many domestic airlines were encouraged by strong demand and overscheduled flights relative to their labor capacity.    

United Airlines is paying pilots three times the normal rate to encourage them to pick up extra slots and other airlines are similarly bumping pay for cabin crew willing to take extra assignments.

The omicron variant is also depressing air travel, and cargo capacity in passenger aircraft, temporarily dampening the airline industry’s improved pace of recovery as nations relaxed travel restrictions in the fall. 

German carrier Lufthansa, for example, recently cut its winter flight schedule by about 10% as the spread of the omicron variant causes countries to reimpose border restrictions and generates uncertainty about travel. 

UPS (NYSE: UPS) says sick workers are not impacting its operations, according to Reuters, which first reported about the FedEx delays.

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.

WHAT ELSE TO READ:

Cathay Pacific restarts limited cargo service after COVID pause

Cathay Pacific suspends cargo flights as Hong Kong tightens COVID rules

Eric Kulisch, Air Cargo Editor

Eric is the Air Cargo Market Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government coverage and news analysis, and was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. Eric is based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached for comments and tips at ekulisch@freightwaves.com

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