In February I wrote about the technology at Delta that connects cabin crew with all the functions of the airline to fix problems. Delta flight attendants had just gotten a new update to their device so that they can connect and chat with ramp tower, catering, cockpit, crew schedules, passenger service and other teams. (American has a similar product in process called ConnectMe.)
Chat logs from Delta flight DL1990 on May 12 from Atlanta to Toronto were leaked to Dave Jamieson who reports on the lengths that Delta will sometimes go to avoid cancelling a flight.
Delta is known for their operational reliability. But the very true saying goes ‘you get what you measure’. Since Delta doesn’t want to cancel flights they will do take extreme steps to fudge the numbers. Sometimes instead of ‘cancelling’ a flight they’ll just ‘delay’ it a day.
On May 12, it seems, an employee in operations took the edict not to cancel flights too far. The Toronto flight faced a maintenance delay, and crew at the end of their duty delay. Flight attendants were reaching the point where they would have to volunteer to keep working or the flight wouldn’t leave.
Delta’s Ops center messaged the gate agent for the flight,
“Do not open door,” the message read. “flt attendants out of time and none available.” The employee advised the gate agent to “let [maintenance] do their work without opening door thanks.”
Thirty minutes later another message came through,
“Ok… if door is not closed by [11 p.m.] Flt attendants walking. We will most likely have to delay flight until morning if this happens.”
Someone in the flight tower responded, “Copy.”
Notice Delta doesn’t say they’d cancel the flight, as an airline normally does, even if they run an ‘extra section’ to carry passengers to their destination. They’d just call it a delay. But they didn’t want the
cancellation overnight delay.
Flight attendants didn’t like this, but were willing to fly in any case.
An attendant listed as “flight leader” said they knew the operations team was trying to “trap” them on the plane, although the attendants were staying to work voluntarily.
“Since we are deciding to stay although y’all are trying to trap us on the plane, and now our layover has been shortened and we will be past our duty day, hungry and tired. It would be nice to have a deadhead at some point tomorrow.”
…“We are ready to walk literally,” the attendant followed up in another message. “Doing the operation a huge favor.”
According to Delta this happened, but shouldn’t have.
Operating an airline is a team effort and the guidance shared in this exchange does not reflect the respect and collaboration we expect of our employees when making operational decisions. Delta’s unique culture is built on supporting one another and that didn’t happen in this case. We have followed up directly with the team members involved to address this situation.
Delta also indicates that the door was opened after maintenance was completed, so flight attendants could have escaped at that time if they had wanted to.