Delta Trapped Flight Attendants on a Plane to Avoid Cancelling a Flight

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.

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. Any ethical employer could simply offered to double their pay. Thus avoiding thousands of dollars in costs that would result from a delayed or canceled flight. Maybe delta needs a union after all, didn’t go she ate better working conditions.

  2. That’s the difference between an organization with good morale and one that doesn’t. I couldn’t imagine AA attendants will to go the extra mile. They would have likely walked or if they worked it would have been a miserable flight for everyone involved.

    This is the part AA doesn’t get. When your employees are as unhappy as all the AA people I interact with weekly it shows up in the product

  3. [redacted -gl] flight attendants. They’re irrelevant sky waitresses. What about the passengers and the inconvenience to them from this [redacted -gl] airline?

  4. OMG! Those flight attendants should be able to find a good attorney and sue Delta Air Lines for false imprisonment! Delta FAs need a union ASAP!

  5. @gilam what did AA have to do with Delta trapping its employees after their duty period ended?
    Delta flight attendants are at-will employees, meaning they could be fired for ANY reason or NO reason at all. If I needed my job and were an at-will employee without union protection, I too would “go the extra mile” because I can take a hint that my employer wants me to keep working past my duty period when the company knowingly traps me in my workstation after my shift has ended.

  6. @reality
    Just wow. You obviously have no clue what an FA does. They are first and foremost responsible for your safety and that if everyone on the plane. You should learn before you spout off. Your ignorance is showing

  7. Interesting that the flying public had to get the government to limit the number of hours passengers were held on the tarmac, but dont show the same consideration to crew members who want off the aircraft after a lengthy duty day. After 15 HOURS ON DUTY it’s time to call it a day. Isnt it any wonder that flight attendants had to fight and recently achieved a federal law with Rest requirements of 10 HOURS. This industry is heavily unionized and this story is one of the reasons why.

  8. @gilam This has nothing to do “morale.” It’s the difference between a non-union workforce that can be fired for anything (Delta) and a union workforce that ensures employees are not abused (AA). Like @Jake above stated, if I could be fired at will with no union to back me up, I would “agree” to work well past quitting time too, especially after being “encouraged” to keep working because my employer locked me in my workspace.

  9. “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.”

    Welcome to DJT’s America

  10. Blog post mentions AA having a similar device in progress but fails to also recognize that United also has had their LINK devices with their FAs for over a year. All this blog post is telling me is that DL continues to look past the well-being of their own employees to compensate for routine operation issues and avoid delays.

  11. @MLP Cry me a River. Their first responsibility isn’t my safety. They are airborne waitresses on a power trip as evidenced by thousands of stories of ‘are we going to have a problem?’

    @frank – waaaaaahhhh. Duty days extend sometimes. They’re not under fire or in the Middle East. They can suck it up.

  12. Flight attendants were the first to die on 9/11.

    A friend of mine worked as a flight attendant for more than 30 years during which time she performed CPR, saved a choking victim, and extinguished a galley fire. She was trained to do this by her employer who expected this (and lots more) from her.

    They deserve better, and when an employer treats employees like dirt, it ALWAYS comes back to bite them.

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