Delta Flight Delays 17 Hours Because The Pilot Wasn’t Qualified To Fly The Aircraft

Saturday’s Delta flight from Seattle to Kona, Hawaii – Delta 565 – was delayed over 9 hours and then – as the flight boarded – the airline realized that one of the pilots was not qualified to operate the flight, as relayed to passengers by the gate agent. It took an overnight – another 8 hours – before passengers were able to fly.

@tiarebowman @delta #delta #deltaairlines #seattle #seatac #seatacairport #airporttiktok ♬ Jiggle Jiggle – Duke & Jones & Louis Theroux

At this point the 1:59 p.m. Boeing 757 departure had been delayed until after 11 p.m. Delta, which prefers to keep its cancellation numbers down, did not actually cancel the flight. Instead they delayed it until the next morning.

It ultimately took off on Sunday morning at 7:16 a.m., a total of 17 hours and 17 minutes late – this time with fully qualified crew.

A Delta Air Lines spokesperson offers,

Delta Flight 565 on May 21 from Seattle to Kona experienced a delay due to a required crew change. We sincerely apologize to our customers for the inconvenience and delay to their travels.

TikTok users offered, “When applying for jobs on Indeed goes a little too far” and the old standby that Delta stands for “Doesn’t Ever Leave The Airport” (I always preferred ‘Diverts Errant Luggage To Atlanta’ myself).

The event was certainly caused by Delta and not by the pilot. My understanding is that the pilot was qualified for the aircraft, but not for ETOPS extended overwater flying. The assignment of an unqualified pilot occurred on a day that the airline cancelled 10% of its flights, and delayed more still.

It’s just a single anecdote but it supports the conventional wisdom (summarized by @xJonNYC) that when the airline shed 30% of its employees during the pandemic – despite receiving billions in federal subsidies so that they would not do this – they lost a lot of their expertise at running an airline.

Coincidentally, earlier this month a Virgin Atlantic flight turned back around to London forty minutes into its flight to New York JFK after it was discovered that the first officer wasn’t qualified to fly the aircraft. The pilot hadn’t completed the airline’s ‘final assessment’ flight, though fully licensed by government authorities and a 5 year veteran of the airline. Virgin Atlantic is 49% owned by Delta.

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. […] Last weekend the Delta Air Lines operation melted down. On Monday they cancelled 10% of their flights, and that’s with a bias towards delays – even overnight delays – to keep from running up their cancel statistics. They delayed many flights on top of this. Beset by confusion they even assigned a pilot to fly a Boeing 757 to Hawaii who wasn’t qualified to do so. […]


  1. @Gary, if you find out how many of these flights are cancelling because of COVID among the DL employees, let us know. A friend of mine is a primary care physician in Atlanta, and he says he is seeing a lot of flight attendants with COVID now, a very sharp uptick. I know this is anecdotal, but it’s a data point.

  2. @Don in ATL – Covid is certainly spreading again, right now confirmed cases are *lowest* in the South and Midwest, and we’re not seeing similar cancel patterns at other airlines for what it’s worth

  3. Makes you wonder about two scenarios here:

    1. Do pilots not know where they’re flying to prior to getting to the airport? Surely this pilot had to have known he was flying to Hawaii? And if so, he should’ve declined the assignment.

    2. If he did know where he was flying to, then was he actually going to attempt to fly knowing he was not certified? And hopefully no one notices?

  4. Aaron,

    Sometimes when you get used and abused on reserve so much over a certain amount of time, or are tired of constantly cleaning up crew services obvious mistakes pilots sometimes just throw up their hands and wait to see how long it takes for problems like this to become apparent. The pilot would not actually operate knowing he/she was unqualified. It could have just as easily have been a paperwork snafu in the training records/ crew quals department.

  5. I can’t believe how envious you guys are. You must search for anything Delta to nag on. They just do almost everything better than United & American Airlines.

  6. Just had a 10 a.m. flight on Delta out of Jax Florida to logan Boston delayed until 3:30..due to lack of a second flight attendant on Friday 5/20 /22

  7. Had an overnight ‘delay’ in the ATL a few months ago. Another benefit of not canceling the flight is they don’t have to pay for lodging or meals. Our flight was scheduled at 10p. Pushed to 10:30, then again to after midnight. At 11 PM, the board changes to 8 AM. Nobody around to get vouchers from. Nowhere. All ATL hotels were booked solid. Had to fight for 10 days to get reimbursed.

  8. And yet people keep traveling before the plandemic is declared over….. worse yet is that nobody is holding the government accountable for the billions in subsidies given to that airlines… the stupidity of 99% of the American people is laughable. On top of that, the bloggers don’t launch a jihad against them since they are effectively paid to pimp their cards!

  9. I’m with Aaron … if a pilot can’t be trusted to know what planes he can fly, do I really want him in charge of my flights? Shouldn’t take supervision or rules or anything but pilot knowledge to know when you’re qualified and when you’re not.

  10. used to fly 150-200k miles a year, mainly on CO and UA. One time I was boarding a brand new 777 on it’s maiden flight from Newark to Houston. For the first time in a very long time I was scared. To of my least favorite cities, and this one has never had passenger service. I was up front and drank mightily for the entire flight.

  11. Since this happened I am pretty sure it has happened in the past. Of course, if an unqualified pilot actually flew a flight, I would expect it to be buried so the public wouldn’t find out. Since the reason was relayed by a gate agent and gate agents have been known to lie before (carry-on bags have to be checked due to no room in compartments when the compartments are almost empty), I have little confidence that the real reason was relayed to the passengers.

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