Delta Air Lines Suffers Mass Cancellations Easter Weekend, Fills Middle Seats Again To Recover

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.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. So is there compensation? I don’t know how Delta can temporarily lift capacity controls and then bring back only to left them in 4 weeks’ time. This is the problem. Delta has spent the last year telling us and paying experts to affirm that flying in a middle seat was unsafe and dangerous. But suddenly it isn’t? Who actually wants to sit in a middle seat if they have trusted Delta and the experts that middle seats were unsafe? Delta should figure out ASAP a way to sell the middle seat as extra space.

  2. I flew Friday. The gate agent was too lazy to process upgrades so an entire row of first class went empty (there are no capacity controls in first-class besides an empty seat next to you) and also gave off-duty flight attendants and pilots seats in comfort-plus even though there were a couple passengers on the comfort-plus upgrade list.

  3. The first holiday cancellation event was unfortunate, the second was an embarrassment for Delta, the third and beyond should be resulting in some serious discussions in the board room about Delta’s goals – operational excellence and customer service or as the leader of a social justice movement.

  4. Makes you wonder if pilots (Delta’s only unionized employees) are having a “holiday flu.”

  5. @FNT Delta Diamond
    if you read pilot chat forums, there are many Delta pilots (most who write anonymously) that Delta’s staffing was critical even before this weekend. They displaced thousands of pilots as part of their fleet retirement plans and have thousands of pilots that are not trained on the planes they were displaced to.
    Pilots, just like every other workgroup, has the ability to legitimately bid to have holidays and weekends off.
    The company has used the same covid excuses for months. They cut costs too deeply in order to run a reliable operation during the holidays when normal employee schedules mean that a higher percentage of employees would be off.

    They have to get it fixed. The fact that Delta has been in the news because of the GA voter bill shows a lack of disconnect between the executive level and the real world.

    If line pilots recognized that a staffing crisis was already happening earlier this week, why would the CEO be injecting himself into political discussions that had as much if not more downside to Delta than upside even as their operation was set for yet another round of holiday cancellations which now require – for the first time -for Delta to break its own seat blocking policy a month early in order to get people home.

  6. FNT Delta. After flying from 1984 to 2002 on UAL I saw pilots and flight attendants upgraded. Called Delta and sent statement and made me gold. 18 years of Platinum and 2,000,000 miles later Delta is doing what lost my biz. Plus, they are spending too much time on being woke rather than fly planes. It’s going to be interesting. Good post Gary!

  7. Seems like Delta should have focused on its actual business instead of involving itself in politics and speaking out against a sensible Voter ID law that prevents fraudulent elections and fake ballots being stuffed in Big Dem cities. If Delta focused on being an airline instead of a political mouthpiece, they might have scheduled their pilots better.

  8. Maybe staff can’t show up to work because they’re still in line at the polling place from November, dehydrated and all.

  9. End cabotage. Allow foreign airlines to fly domestic routes.
    Retiring planes like the 777 has proven to be detremental.
    Too many people took the airline’s early out offers.
    Incompetent mangement.
    What all airlines should say instead of involving themselves in politics is:
    We are a transportation co. We move people. There will always be a difference of opinions.

    Ed Bastain needs to be fired.

  10. @jedipenguin I would settle for Air Canada, West Jet and Aeromexico being allowed to fly domestic routes under provisions of NAFTA 2.0 or whatever it’s called. That would be helpful. It’s actually kind of amazing that several U.S. airlines have historically had unusual domestic routes in other countries or regions but not foreign airlines in the United States and U.S. territories. I’m reminded of Northwest/Delta’s intra-Asia network out of Narita. I believe Delta and before that PanAm also had intra-Europe routes at one point.

  11. Delta runs older aircraft, has the worst frequent flier program of US majors and does not compete on price. Take away operational reliability and they will be in deep doo zoo.

  12. Ridiculous that Bastain even commented on the voter id situation.
    These woke people don’t even have the facts right.
    I’m sick of them creating “ red Herring” arguments.
    Ill never fly Delta or drink Coca Cola products again.

  13. @Jackson Watson
    Everything you say here is full of S**t.
    Get over it you’re a loser just like the Chump Fool.

  14. Now that capacity restrictions have been suspended for the weekend, Delta should just lift the seat blocking now instead of waiting until the end of April. Stop the charade. Of course, Delta and Delta’s hired experts have spent most of the last year telling customers that it was dangerous and unsafe to fly economy in a middle seat or in first-class next to a non-family member. So it is unsafe Tuesday but totally safe today? Or unsafe April 30, but safe May 1?

  15. Corporate too busy focusing on politics? I flew Delta international last week. Four times between check in at DCA and boarding at JFK they checked my photo ID, passport, and other documents. The same process exists for the return. My boarding passes are stamped several times with “DOCS-OK.” But the state of Georgia can’t have photo ID checks for voting?

    Delta looks like a bunch of buffoons. Start paying attention to your core business and let the citizens of Georgia deal with their politics.

  16. I love all the racists cheap-shotting about Delta being too involved in politics and being too woke.

  17. That this happens regularly on holidays makes me wonder if Delta’s talent pool is thinner than they know.

    Do Flt Ops people at DL get time off in order of seniority? My hypothesis is that the senior types don’t want to work holidays and get Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter off.

    That leaves the less experienced staff running Flight Ops and handling disruptions.

  18. I was UAL Premier Executive until they started putting flight attendants and pilots up in first class. Nineteen years ago I switched to Delta. Is UAL Platinum fair about upgrades? I had no problem with UAL in first until then. Your thoughts? Thank you.

  19. @Steve
    So I guess Delta is racist for requiring IDs in order to board? But yeah, Delta should focus on flying airplanes and not on pandering to SJWs such as yourself.

  20. DL is becoming a mess under it’s current management. A far cry from the Richard Anderson days. They lived off their reputation for the past years and while UA and AA struggled to find who they are. Well, times are changing. Just this week DL about face on the GA voting laws and now pilot shortages, scheduling issues during a 3rd holiday weekend and having to back track and fill center seats. Plus DL service is NOT better then AA and I would bet UA either.

    What is DL becoming, not the leader of the US airlines industry any more, just another follower or failure.

  21. Last Monday night I tried calling Delta and the wait time was “over 9 hours”. There should be huge penalties for companies that are so poorly run.

  22. @Rich: I’m a Diamond Medallion, the highest tier elite status. My wait time is almost always 1-2 hours these days.

  23. I flew yesterday, 0730 flight delayed 1+ hour for “crew rest”.

    Got to MSP 50 min later than the official arrival. We had to wait 12-15 min for someone to show up to dock the jet bridge, during which time I chatted with some very nervous people with a tight connection.

    They disembarked 10 min before their connecting flight. Despite running for their gate, 3 gates down, the door was closed when I went by 7-8 min before scheduled departure

    No fewer than 5 people had to wait 5+ hours. Crappy service Delta, could easily have waited 2-3 min to get people home.

    I’ve flown a fair amount during the pandemic and I’ve been impressed with the service. If this is the new norm, I’ll just burn my miles and find a new carrier.

  24. I was on one of the packed flights. I booked Delta because of the blocked seats. Has anybody received compensation for these problems?

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