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Airlines have begun adjusting scheduling policies based on the new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention isolation guidance for Covid-19, which may ease current flight disruptions but is already facing backlash from a union for flight attendants.

The new CDC guidance, announced Monday, shortens the recommended isolation time for those infected with Covid-19 from 10 days to five days if they are asymptomatic and continue to wear a mask when around others for the next five days. That guidance falls in line with what Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian had requested in a letter to the CDC last week. Airlines for America, a lobbying group representing major North American airlines, also had sent a letter to the CDC requesting that the isolation period be shortened.

Delta said on Monday evening that it was “working to implement” the new guidance, which the carrier said “allows more flexibility for Delta to schedule crews and employees to support a busy holiday season and a sustained return to travel by customers.” U.S. carriers are coming off a weekend of thousands of delayed and canceled flights caused in part by inclement weather but also by crew shortages as cases of the Covid-19 omicron variant spiked.

“This is a safe, science-based and more practical approach based on what we now know about the omicron variant,” Delta chief health officer Henry Ting said in a statement after the CDC recommendation change. “We’re learning that while omicron is highly contagious, it also involves a shorter duration of illness and a shorter contagious period compared to previous strains.”

Association of Flight Attendants-CWA International president Sara Nelson, however, was more skeptical about the change.

“We said we wanted to hear from medical professionals on the best guidance for quarantine, not from corporate America advocating for a shortened period due to staffing shortages,” Nelson said in a statement. “The CDC gave a medical explanation about why the agency has decided to reduce the quarantine requirements from 10 to five days, but the fact that it aligns with the number of days pushed by corporate America is less than reassuring.”

Nelson noted that the CDC guidance emphasizing that people should be asymptomatic and continue to wear masks upon return did recognize some of the union’s concerns. “If any business pressures a worker to return to work before they feel better, we will make clear it is an unsafe work environment, which will cause a much greater disruption than any ‘staffing shortages,’ ” she said.


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