Delta says it will cut 100 flights per day as staffing shortages hit summer travel
Delta Air Lines is bracing for a challenging start to the summer travel season.
The airline said this week that it's dealing with a staffing shortage which is affecting its ability to recover from interruptions to regular operations, such as storms and air traffic control-imposed delays. Those shortages are expected to impact the upcoming Memorial Day weekend travel period.
Want more airline-specific news? Sign up for TPG’s free new biweekly Aviation newsletter.
In a memo to staff on Wednesday, shared with TPG by several Delta employees on the condition of anonymity, the airline said it planned to "proactively [thin] the schedule over Memorial Day and through the balance of June."
Additionally, the airline said in a press release on Thursday that it would cut about 100 daily departures from its schedule from July 1 through Aug. 7.
"This will build additional resilience in our system and improve operational reliability for our customers and employees; we’ll continue to proactively adjust select flights in the coming weeks," the company said in the release.
The airline also issued a travel waiver in anticipation of thunderstorms forecasted across the Southeast and Northeast over Memorial Day weekend. A representative for Delta said the cuts over the holiday weekend were "tactical" with the expectation of disruptions caused by the storms. Most cancelations should be announced at least 24 hours in advance to give passengers time to make alternative plans, the spokesperson said.
In the memo, which was signed by Allison Ausband, Delta's chief customer experience officer, and John Laughter, Delta's chief operations officer, the airline also said it would cut aircraft operational hours in August, but specified that "no market exits are planned."
"More than any time in our history, however, the various factors currently impacting our operation - from weather and air traffic control, vendor staffing to higher-than-planned unscheduled absences in some work groups (some due to COVID) – are resulting in an operation that isn’t consistently up to the standards Delta has set for the industry in recent years," the memo said. "Our recent performance clearly shows these factors go beyond the assumptions of our plan and we will take action to address this imbalance."
"When pilot resources become limited, the impact to the operation is greater," Ausband and Laughter added. "Many pilots are stepping in to fly overtime in an effort to offset these challenges but we need to take additional steps to support you and our customers."
Related: 7 tips to avoid getting stranded by airlines when things go wrong
From May 1 to May 25, Delta canceled 1,358 mainline flights — roughly 2% of its schedule — and delayed 12,143, or 17% of its schedule; the average delay time was 52 minutes, according to data from FlightAware.
The airline's worst day of cancelations this month came on Saturday, May 21, as thunderstorms near its Detroit hub led the airline to cancel 280 flights, or 11%, with 25% delayed. The following Monday, only 2% of flights were canceled but a jarring 37% were delayed.
As a point of comparison, United Airlines has canceled 2% and delayed 22% of flights in the same period, while American Airlines has canceled 1% and delayed 21% of its mainline flights. Southwest Airlines, which, like American, is based in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, has canceled 1% and delayed 25% of its flights.
Passengers whose flights are affected by any cuts will be notified directly as long as contact information was provided when booking.
In the memo, Ausband and Laughter noted a point of perspective.
"We’ve never rebuilt an airline before, so we’ll continue to assess, adjust and improve how we fly and how we support all of you entering this final stage of rebuilding," they said.
If you plan to travel during the busy holiday weekend, regardless of airline, be sure to check your schedule frequently, and be prepared to deal with any disruptions.