No, Delta Didn’t Really Go ‘Cancel-Free’ Over the Thanksgiving Holiday

Dec 1, 2017

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Earlier this week, Delta make the bold claim: “Delta Flies Cancel-Free Over Thanksgiving Holiday.” In the press release, the airline specifies that it flew “nearly 23,000 flights during the holiday period from Wednesday to Sunday without a single cancellation anywhere across its global operation.”

As it turns out, that’s false.

In the comment section of our post comparing Delta’s Thanksgiving operations with AA and United, TPG reader Paul Jeon pointed out that there was at least one cancellation: “Really?? My [flight] on Sunday Nov 26 DL3553 was Cancelled!”

Sure enough, as confirmed on ExpertFlyer, that flight was cancelled:

A Delta spokesperson admitted to TPG that the flight was cancelled, but explained that there’s a reason it didn’t count the flight as cancelled: It substituted that flight with a make-up flight. The spokesperson explained that this flight would have just been counted as delayed, except that Delta was required to cancel the original flight and operate a different flight number. That’s because the original was operated by SkyWest and the subbed flight was operated by mainline Delta, and mainline Delta couldn’t operate as DL3553.

When I asked the spokesperson if all passengers from the original flight were accommodated on the new flight, the spokesperson responded that most passengers were re-accommodated on earlier flights. That’s a peculiar answer if the make-up flight happened shortly after the originally cancelled flight. When asked for the flight number and departure time of the make-up flight, the spokesperson said that he didn’t have this information available but would look into it. As of the time of this writing, we haven’t received this information.

But, there are ways that we can find this without Delta. Based on FlightAware data, the following Delta LAX-SFO flights completed in the 24 hours after the cancelled flight:

Since Delta asserts that a Delta mainline aircraft flew the makeup flight, we can eliminate the SkyWest-operated flights. The following mainline flights operated Sunday after the cancellation: DL1806, DL2780 and DL2101. Looking at the flight histories for these flights, the only thing that stands out is that DL1806 operated with a 757-200 rather than the standard 717-200 on Sunday:

But, there’s one other flight on the flight history that stands out: DL9856. For those not in the know, airlines typically use 9000 flight numbers for special, unscheduled flights — like ferry flights, maintenance flights or… well, make-up flights.

Sure enough, FlightRadar24 confirms that DL9856 is used periodically on random routes:

It seems likely that Delta’s “make-up flight” is a flight that departed over 18 hours after the originally scheduled flight.

At the very least, Delta bragged about having no cancellations over Thanksgiving while having at least one confirmed cancellation. And, the airline is discounting that cancellation because it operated a make-up flight. But, it seems that make-up flight was the next day.

Why wouldn’t Delta just admit to having one cancellation? Were there even more than just this one cancellation that the airline isn’t admitting to? It probably wasn’t the wisest to claim that the airline was “cancel-free over the Thanksgiving holiday,” especially when there is a plane-load of passengers that can disprove that claim.

Featured image by Ramin Talaie / Getty Images

Do you think operating a “make-up flight” let’s you claim to be “Cancel-Free”?

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