The omicron variant is starting to weigh on travel: '2 steps forward and 1 step back'

Hugo Martin, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

LOS ANGELES — Another Greek letter is in the headlines, and the travel industry is bracing for a new COVID-19 jolt.

Several business conferences and international gatherings have been postponed due to the uncertainty generated by the latest coronavirus variant — omicron — and airlines are preparing for a pause to the rebound of travel that the industry started to see over the last few months.

United Airlines Chief Executive Scott Kirby called the spread of the variant a “short-term setback” and predicted omicron will have a temporary impact on bookings, similar to the downturn airlines reported after the spread of the Delta variant several weeks ago.

“It’s like we are taking two steps forward and one step back,” he said Tuesday at an airline expo in Long Beach that drew 1,300 in-person attendees.

Jeffrey Goh, chief executive of Star Alliance, the world’s largest airline alliance, said it was too early to predict how omicron will affect air travel and urged industry leaders not to panic.

In response to the latest variant, the U.S. temporarily halted travel from eight African countries, including South Africa, where positive test results for the new variant recently spiked. Britain, the European Union, South Korea, Japan and Israel have also instituted new travel restrictions in response to the spread of the variant.


The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working on a revised testing order that would require international air travelers coming in to the U.S. to test for COVID-19 one day before departure. The U.S. currently requires a negative COVID-19 test result within three days of departure.

Several international gatherings have already been postponed.

The 12th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization in Geneva, scheduled for Nov. 30 through Dec. 3, was postponed indefinitely due to travel restrictions imposed in response to the latest variant.

“Given these unfortunate developments and the uncertainty that they cause, we see no alternative but to propose to postpone the Ministerial Conference and reconvene it as soon as possible when conditions allow,” General Council Chair Ambassador Dacio Castillo told the General Council during an emergency meeting. “I trust that you will fully appreciate the seriousness of the situation.”


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