The Columbus Dispatch

Schools adapting for return from break

- Carolyn Thompson

Mask requiremen­ts are returning in some school districts that had dropped them. Some are planning to vastly ramp up virus testing among students and staff. And a small number of school systems are switching to remote learning – for just a short while, educators hope.

With coronaviru­s infections soaring, the return from schools’ winter break will be different than planned for some as administra­tors again tweak protocols and make real-time adjustment­s in response to the shifting pandemic. All are signaling a need to stay flexible.

“Change has been the only constant in this fight,” Roger León, superinten­dent of Newark Schools in New Jersey, wrote in a notice to parents before break. He announced Thursday that students will learn remotely for at least

weekend because of staffing shortages. Delta canceled dozens around Easter, citing similar issues.

Could airlines have prevented it?

Omicron was a shock to the system, and its speed broadsided just about everyone, airlines included.

“This is kind of an extreme circumstan­ce,” Hetzel said.

Some airlines were hit harder due simply to where they tend to operate. Southwest and American had lower geographic exposure to awful weather, and less of their staff is based in areas where COVID-19 cases are surging, said Raymond James analyst Savanthi Syth.

Labor groups, however, say more could have been done, like offering flight attendants extra holiday pay earlier on.

Syth analyzed which airlines she thought were more at risk of operationa­l problems during the holiday season, which drives most of the fourth quarter’s profitabil­ity, and found those that were conservati­ve with scheduling were hit, not just those that were aggressive.

“This leads me to believe that this has more to do with the uniqueness of omicron variant and the greater impact it is having in the Northeast currently than a failure on the part of airlines,” she said.

Carriers were more prepared for the holidays than for hail and thundersto­rms that snarled travel earlier in 2021, said Charles Leocha, president and founder of the consumer advocacy group Travelers United. “It’s been a really good effort,” he said. “The airlines have paid more money to keep people on reserve, and they’re paying more money to keep people flying.”

Airlines have been hiring. As of October, U.S. passenger airlines employed more than 400,000 full-time workers, according to the U.S. Department of Transporta­tion, but that’s down about 9% from two years ago.

Even critics say airlines were at the mercy of the pandemic last year.

“Airlines should have planned better, and the (Transporta­tion Department) should have monitored airline capacity and required ready reserves of equipment and personnel given the large federal subsidies since 2020,” said Paul Hudson, president of advocacy group Flyersrigh­ts.org. “But the omicron variant ... is primarily to blame.”

What should travelers do?

If travelers’ flights are canceled, most airlines will put them on the next available plane to that destinatio­n for free.

“They will figure a way to get you there,” Leocha said. “You don’t have to pay anything extra.”

Those who cancel their trips instead of taking alternativ­e flights are entitled to get their money back, even with nonrefunda­ble tickets. Orlando, of Scott’s Cheap Flights, urged travelers to remember their right to a refund.

 ?? PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS/AP FILE ?? Some school systems in the U.S. are moving toward requiring vaccinatio­ns for students. The District of Columbia on Dec. 22 said all students, whether in public, private or charter schools, must be fully vaccinated by March 1.
PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS/AP FILE Some school systems in the U.S. are moving toward requiring vaccinatio­ns for students. The District of Columbia on Dec. 22 said all students, whether in public, private or charter schools, must be fully vaccinated by March 1.

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