Skip to content

Delta is short on flight attendants, even as it warns of possible furloughs

July 20, 2020
5 min read
Delta is short on flight attendants, even as it warns of possible furloughs
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Flyers on Delta Air Lines faced an uptick in delays and cancellations this past weekend as the carrier struggled with too few flight attendants — even as the carrier is warning of potential furloughs this fall.

More flights on the Atlanta-based carrier were delayed or cancelled July 17-19 weekend of than on many of its largest competitors, including American Airlines and United Airlines, according to data from FlightAware. Southwest Airlines also saw a high number of delays, though it cancelled far fewer flights.

Delta spokesperson Morgan Durrant told TPG that a "handful" of the cancellations were the result of the airline's staffing issues The rest, he said, were largely the result of capacity reductions as the airline pulled back flights in response to fewer travelers flying to Florida from New York because of COVID and quarantine concerns.

Sign up for the free daily TPG newsletter for more airline news!

Delta Airlines airplanes at the Atlanta airport
Delta Air Lines planes at the Atlanta airport. (Photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy)

The unexpected turn of events at Delta underscores a recovery that many U.S. airlines say has stalled amid the resurging pandemic.

Things looked good for U.S. airlines in June. COVID-19 cases were declining, giving some a sense that the worst of the pandemic had passed. At the same time, an increasing number of Americans were returning to the skies, prompting schedule planners to add back more flights for the summer.

"Then July happened," Delta senior vice president of inflight service Allison Ausband told staff in a July 19 internal memo viewed by TPG. "Now we're finding ourselves in a situation where we're in need of additional staffing.”

The return of travelers in June proved fleeting. A resurgence of COVID-19 cases coupled with new travel restrictions resulted in net booked passengers — or new reservations minus cancellations — falling slightly at the end of June before plateauing at down around 80% year-over-year for the first two weeks of July, according to data from trade group Airlines for America (A4A).

Related: Delta says air travel recovery has stalled, hopes more flyers return by end of summer

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Despite that plateau in passenger numbers, however, Delta is operating more charter flights and has seen unscheduled absences among cabin crew double from June to July, according to Ausband's memo. The airline has asked active cabin crews who can to work extra flights since at least July 13, according to internal communiqués viewed by TPG.

“In a year that feels like Alice looking through the looking glass," Atmosphere Research president Henry Harteveldt said on the situation. "This is one of the most unusual, ironic outcomes we are seeing.”

Harteveldt said the unscheduled absences are likely due to fears of COVID-19, especially among crews who have to work flights to infection hotspots as well as to where more people object to wearing a mask. He also doubts that the staffing issues are limited to Delta.

Related: Delta gives pilots ultimatum to take a pay cut or be furloughed

Delta's cabin crew shortage is the latest surprise twist in the coronavirus saga. It comes at a time when every major carrier — including Delta itself — is warning the opposite: overstaffing that could force mass furloughs or layoffs this fall amid a stalled coronavirus recovery.

"We are unfortunately still overstaffed in some areas of the business," Delta CEO Ed Bastian told staff in a July 16 memo, thanking the 17,000 people who took voluntary departure packages and 40,000 who have taken unpaid leave to date in the crisis. Avoiding furloughs will take some "creativity," he added.

Around 25,000 of Delta's 91,000 employees were flight attendants prior to the pandemic.

Durrant declined to comment on whether Delta's current lack of flight attendants will impact its decision on potential furloughs this fall. He did reiterate Ausband's comment that the airline does not expect its staffing issues to continue into August.

Related: Air travel recovery may come slower than expected

U.S. airlines cannot involuntarily furlough or layoff staff until Oct. 1 under employment protections under the federal government's coronavirus aid package, or CARES Act. A number of labor unions, including the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) and Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA), are pushing for an extension of those protections.

Delta cancelled 21 flights on July 17 and another 27 flights on July 18, FlightAware data shows. On both days this is more than double the number of cancellations at American, Southwest and United, none of which canceled more than eight flights on either day.

By Sunday, July 19, Delta's operations had improved with just six cancellations though 114 flights were delayed.

Delta is scheduled to operate an average of 2,280 flights a day in July and an average of nearly 3,000 flights a day in August, according to Cirium schedules. The airline has shaved just over 8,400 flights — or an average of around 270 a day — from its planned August schedule since last week.

Related: Delta Air Lines retires more jets amid shaky outlook, nearly $6B quarterly loss

Featured image by Getty Images

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers

TPG featured card

Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day

Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023