Just last week Delta Air Lines said they would stop blocking middle seats May 1, but they’re filling up planes including middle seats early – temporarily this weekend – as the once most-reliable airline in the country tries to recover from another holiday operational meltdown.
Delta proactively cancelled 72 flights as of this writing on Sunday, compared to just 1 for United and 5 at American, before the flying day even started according to aviation tracking site FlightAware. I’m told there are still trips where crew aren’t yet assigned, so that number may rise.
That’s more flight cancellations that the Atlanta-based carrier used to experience in a year and comes on the heels of mass cancellations over Thanksgiving and again over Christmas. And, as in recent holiday breakdowns, the problem appears to be lack of available pilots.
Delta spokesperson Anthony black tells me,
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 overwhelming majority have been rebooked for the same-travel day.
As a result of needing to transport passengers whose flights were cancelled, the airline has lifted its load factor caps for Sunday and Monday. In other words it’s willing to fill every seat to get people to their destination, which helps transport passengers more quickly than they’d otherwise be able to but for passengers on flights that weren’t cancelled it means having someone in a middle seat next to them – when they may chosen Delta for their trip because of the airline’s promise that wouldn’t happen on trips for another four weeks.
New York LaGuardia – Atlanta, Delta 1625 at 1 p.m. on Sunday
Delta more than any other U.S. airline has prided itself – and sold itself – on reliability. In the past they’ve gone over a month at a time without a mainline flight cancellation, and hit 200 days in a year without a mainline cancellation. Holiday weekends would traditionally be a ‘no cancel’ day where the airline would go to tremendous lengths (including 20 hour flight ‘delays’ with different crew and aircraft) doing anything possible to avoid classifying a flight as cancelled. That didn’t work this year.
Is Delta’s reliability magic gone, perhaps along with the managers who took buy outs as part of the airline’s cost containment during the pandemic? Has Delta lost the managers who knew how to run the airline and balance flights and crew resources? The consistent problems Delta has faced over holiday weekends seems a bad omen for the airline’s future reliability.