Delta is filling middle seats to combat Easter Weekend flight cancellations

Apr 4, 2021

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Editor’s note: This piece has been updated with additional passenger compensation information. 

On the heels of a rocky Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2020, Delta proactively canceled more than 70 flights heading into Easter Sunday, unblocking middle seats to help offset the number of displaced passengers.

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Points, Miles & Martinis first reported the mass number of cancellations.

In a statement to TPG, Delta attributed the cancellations to staffing hurdles: “Delta teams have been working through various factors, including staffing, large numbers of employee vaccinations and pilots returning to active status. We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience and the majority have been rebooked for the same travel day.”

While proactive cancellations during busy travel periods aren’t a rare occurrence, it’s important to note that comparatively United and American Airlines each reported fewer than six canceled flights at the start of the day.

Over a million customers have flown on Delta in the past few days — the highest number of passengers since before the pandemic.

(Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

Delta temporarily lifting middle seat caps

Even more disappointing to see is Delta’s reaction to this set of cancellations.

In order to make up for the canceled flights, the airline opened up capacity — including middle seats — on Sunday and Monday flights.

Passengers have already taken to social media to criticize the airline’s decision to unblock middle seats over the holiday weekend.

This comes on the heels of Delta’s recent announcement that middle seats would remain blocked until May 1, 2021.

Many passengers have booked flights with Delta over other U.S. airlines specifically because of its middle-seat blocking policy. While it’s a tough situation when you’re trying to get passengers from canceled flights rebooked to their destinations quickly and efficiently, unblocking middle seats after booking is a blow to the consumer trust that Delta has built.

One passenger who TPG spoke with via Twitter was offered 2,500 SkyMiles “as a gesture of goodwill” after he took to the social media platform to voice his frustrations. “Honestly, compensation is the furthest thing from my mind right now. My health and safety are #1,” he said, adding that he had Diamond status before the pandemic.

The passenger had no idea about the change in seat capacity until after he boarded the full flight. “[My seat neighbor and I] looked at each other and said, ‘I’m sorry, but you must have the wrong seat…?’ Then the flight attendant informed us.”

Delta is currently the only airline with a middle seat blocking policy — with the exception of Alaska Airlines blocking select middle seats in its extra-legroom Premium Class (but not first-class or coach) through the end of May.

Related: Delta, the last holdout, will start selling flights to 100% on May 1

bottom line

Delta has been known as one of the most well-run airlines in the U.S. There have been stretches of more than a month at a time without a mainline cancellation, and the airline has made a name for itself as one of the most reliable U.S.-based airlines.

Related: Best US airlines of 2020: Who’s doing it right in the COVID era

But could this be changing?

This set of mass cancellations is not Delta’s first within the past six months. As mentioned above, we saw mass cancellations over Thanksgiving and Christmas last year — though neither of those holidays resulted in the airline unblocking middle seats.

This is the third holiday in the past six months where Delta has hit major roadblocks, which has undoubtedly made a dent in the airline’s reputation for reliability. But as the industry as a whole begins its road to recovery from COVID-19, we’ll hopefully see flight operations return to normal and Delta’s streak for no mainline cancelations return.

Featured image by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy. 

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