Delta’s Operation Melting Down Again Over Christmas

Delta cancelled 67 flights on Christmas Eve day. They had already cancelled 123 flights on Christmas Day, or 10% of their schedule, by 6 a.m. on the East Coast. In contrast American Airlines had cancelled only one flight.

This follows an operational meltdown over Thanksgiving that the airline blamed on Covid-19 (as though the virus affects only Delta) when in fact it was driven by scheduling and staffing issues.

Over Thanksgiving Delta’s meltdown seemed to be a combination of poor operational management, and failing to use the tools available to them. Leading into the holiday the airline was hit with bad weather, but today’s cancellations appear driven by lack of available crew. This despite a willingness to spend large amounts of money on staff to avoid cancelling flights.

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. The Christmas holidays 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? This would be 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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »



  1. One hundred-plus canceled flights. It would be interested to know the loads on these flights. Is there any chance these are empty DTW-CIU flights as opposed to say JFK to MIA?

    Regardless, right now, Delta has big issues:

    1) Lots of cancellations
    2) No on-board service, even in domestic first-class and Delta One business-class
    3) Blocking out middle-seats in first-class for flight attendants instead of paying passengers or upgrading elites
    4) Not upgrading elites even when there are available, non-blocked seats in first class
    5) Not rolling over 2020 MQDs to 2021.

  2. We flew FLL to MSP on 12/23, which was a disaster. Our FLL to MSP nonstop was canceled due to the snow storm. So we decided let’s just get to Atlanta because we will have far more options.

    Well the ATL -MSP options were sparse at best and some of them were delayed 14 hours til the next morning. We gambled and waited out the last two flights of the evening on standby. The standby lists were almost 60 people in length. People were so furious at the situation because there were no confirmed seats or routings to MSP from ATL until like Friday evening 12/25. Luckily we were the very last two to make it on the last flight of the evening. We were 9 and 10 on the list. Landed in MSP at 2am on the 24th.

    I can’t believe DL didn’t look to upguage a couple flights to a wide body which I’m sure they have a few of those idling in ATL at the moment. Or even add an extra segment to get some of these people to MSP.

    It also irks me that they just flat out canceled the FLL-MSP nonstop. Why not just massively delay it til like later that evening or heck even delay it til the next day if there were crew time out issues. The aircraft had already arrived in FLL and was just going to sit.

    The pilot/crew staffing shortage really screwed everyone again this holiday.

  3. Maybe the chaos around the holidays is an attempt to get the government to give them more (of our) money?

  4. ICU beds filling up.
    New, unknown virus mutation.
    Everyone being asked not to travel.
    Throw in a snow storm.
    What are you complaining about again?

  5. Planes are parked so they aren’t viable backups ‘idoling’. They then load more flights than they can support (why would you do this?) -their fault. No other US airlines are having these issues so there’s really no excuse for it

  6. @Als – ICU beds are filling up because hospitals are getting $70K when ever their capacity reaches a certain point. So you are ill, you go to the ER and they tell you that you have covid and they get $13K, then they stick you in a bed for 8 hours of “observation” release you and get another $70K on top of the $13K. As long as you are in the hospital for 8 hours they get the extra $70K. So they turn the beds 3X every day and get $83K per patient or $249K per bed every 24 hours. Nice gig if you can get it.

  7. @OneXMarine, I hadn’t heard the specifics of that. Can you kindly point me in the direction of further detail? Tia

  8. Like all carriers, COVID cause a lot of talent to take buyouts. Hope they can figure it out before they lose loyal flyers.
    However their marketing group is now changing rules of upgrades. No more five day out first upgrades. Great way to reward their soon to be lost medallion flyers.

  9. Let’s see. MSP had a snow storm. Lots of flights canceled and you expect more service to and from MSP………..‍♂️‍♂️‍♂️

  10. After waiting and waiting, because of cancelled/delayed flights just decided to forego seeing the Grandkids and went back home. Think that I am actually enjoying the quiet and non-hassle more than traveling. Just wondering how long it is going to take to get my baggage back. Don’t really care though.

  11. DL also never issued a weather waiver for the MSP snowstorm so the people that might have tried to beat the storm couldn’t. That would have been a cheap way to avoid some stranded pax.

  12. @Jeepie – We had a small gathering of friends Wednesday evening and 2 of them are RN’s. I had heard this before from non-medical personnel and they confirmed that it’s true.

  13. This is now my 10th flight since the pandemic. I’ve had 6 on UA and 4 on DL. I was upgraded on each UA flight as a platinum and I’m at 50% as a DL Diamond. The service level on DL used to be amazing. The Estero wine is embarrassing. On UA, I can still get a club soda, ice, liquor in sealed bottles if I want and they are back to serving (sealed) hot sandwiches. I bring my own but it’s a start. I do appreciate the space on DL flights but the offerings are really disappointing.

  14. 3 things that stick out for me:
    1. Brain drain.
    2. Retirement of the 777s-not alieviate but could have eased the situation.
    3. Retirement of MD-90s probably did not help.

  15. Lots if questions, speculation and innuendo, with no journalism. How about talking to someone at the airline?

  16. This situation is all so crazy. Are we trying to save airline manufacturers too? Airbus has over 600 orders of A220. Southwest has just given Boeing big order of the new troubled 737. Is anyone in management not crazy?

  17. @ Carolynne – When you figure it out let us know would you? I have no clue as to what they are trying to accomplish, and I doubt if they do either.

  18. BS on the a “poor operational management” over thanksgiving. Poor pilot scheduling and staffing. The ops management side worked through to deal with, and clean up, the mess. Xmas – more pilot issues. MSP blizzard didn’t help.

  19. I love these FF who think they are experts of the business simply because they fly a lot.

    You have no clue the complexities of how staffing works or how planes are used. It’s not just “oh…go rev up that 76 over there in the parking lot ”

    Yes, it’s not acceptable, especially given what happened at Thanksgiving (and at this point i think he should be let go) but some of your “monday morning quarterbacks” have no clue.

    And to the dick who complained about on board staff…yea, I’m sure you’re one of those who think because u pay for a ticket, you don’t need to use your manners or treat people like humans.

    I’ve flown all of these airlines…overall dl is the best. If you think every human of the 25k can be 100% every single day, I’m pretty sure i know you have a miserable life.

  20. Oh my gosh people ! I’ve been in industry 46 years, 20 scheduling pilots and flt attendants. There are federal air regulations for hours on duty and flown in a 30 day period, so the end of the month and first of the month are trying times as it is ,and throw in a holiday ( sick calls ) and bad weather …. and you have CANCELLATIONS on top of a
    Holiday schedule with less flying for the rest of the employees who are entitled to having a holiday off.

  21. If you believe the nonsense spewed by @onexmarine I have a bridge in New York for sale at a special low price

  22. Prefer American Airlines.
    New modern, clean aircraft.
    Live streaming movies and TV.
    Modern airport facilities.
    No Delays experienced on AA during our holiday travels.
    Those looking for gourmet in-flight dinners, dream on.
    Airframe has changed with the low fares!
    Go out to eat upon arrival!

  23. @Johnny delta Ed, is that you? LOL! Look at all the Delta fanboys triggered by the all the posts praising AA and UA.

  24. Heres the solution: Get rid of the unhappy, handcuff carrying flight attendants down to 1 per plane and use recorded announcements, get rid of the 400 lbs worth of tv screens on every seat back that no one (under 5%) uses, get rid of the 737 MAX of which one had serious engine trouble and fuel issues flying out of storge today in Tucson AZ. cut upper management pay by 35% and the CEO salary by 50-60%, stop flying huge equipment on short flights with 50% capacity and why are airlines adding new routes to failing economy cities while canning the hard working employees that make these companies and their corrupt CEO’s & upper management successful, and for those double standard rules not backed by REAL science where the airlines demand masks <<(which is against federal law) while not distancing passengers, and violate hipa law by asking personal medical questions, while people like myself that needs to FLY to my appointments each week 2000 miles and have breathing issues that preclude me from masks, which have also been proven worthless by no less than 12 countries and 175 scientists (unbiased/unpaid by politicians) and 2000+ doctors that say this is less of a threat than the regular flu and just being used to budt the world economy on purpose. I demand no more $$ goes to big businesses, no major airlines. They spend it like it grows on trees, and gov keeps printing $$ they fo not have and cone up with another stim bill of 900 billion of which 750 billion goes to foreign countries and their well-being and border walls!!!! All politicians need to be hung for this. No joke, dragged out of office and lynched in public. They along with corporate US, big tech, Holly wood, ScAmazon, etc are all sold out to child labor, genocidal China. The only way this virus stops is by the people!!!!. Delta is DONE, American and United can also go jump in a lake. I've seen the corporate greed and politics in these forsaken airlines and its high time to let business fail. Thry never seem to learn their lesson.

  25. @747 always – What’s the matter does the truth hurt? Put your money where your mouth is you airline trash!

  26. As a stock market analyst and old Delta Flying Colonel (even before ff elite etc.) I write about all of this daily, with an economic perspective. Delta has a few seniority problems and generally is superb compared to others. In this weather it’s always a toss-up. The only reason I post is the lunacy about hospitals. The payment was $29,000 not 70k and that was ICU level situations. Doctors make less not more even if the hospital gets more; but that offsets revenue they would not have from cardiac and other procedures that they can’t handle these days (almost every cath-lab patient and so on is delaying if viewed as elective; and not even routine tests are being done like normal). NOW, this new week you should see Sorrento Therapeutics new swab test EUA approved; and that will become an affordable American made in-home 2 minute test that should really help people diagnose early OR feel free to travel and so on. There may be an associated App but if one wants privacy that will have it too. No labs; no doctors; no hospital.. if you’re negative. And for vaccines I’m thinking Inovia with their DNA vaccine will make Pfizer and Moderna’s poor choices when it gets approved (backed by the Defense Dept. by the way). Anyway I look forward to flying ONLY Delta as soon as it’s truly safe.

  27. People should not be flying anyway. The less idiots travel and put all at risk, the more we get Covid under control. All flights, except for emergency, should be banned.

  28. There are federal air regulations for hours on duty and flown in a 30 day period, so the end of the month and first of the month are trying times as it is, and throw in a holiday. I have no clue as to what they are trying to accomplish, and I doubt if they do either. To a joyful present and a well-remembered past. Best wishes for Happy Holidays and a magnificent New Year.

  29. I am equally, a legacy Flying Colonel with Delta, and I tend to fly with Delta as frequently as possible, although I share with JetBlue only because JetBlue lower rates allow to book a seat, while Delta does not. My Flying Colonel status was gained through influencing substantial revenue to Delta for many years and substantial accrued miles. It was nice when we were recognized, received upgrades, and access to the Crown Rooms. When the program benefits were eliminated, I switched to the AMEX card that provided similar program benefits for about $475 a year which I expensed. Very few Delta employees know what a Flying Colonel status on the boarding pass or the reservation record. Only the senior Delta employees recognize what we contributed to the Airline to not only produce their jobs, but to promote the growth of the Airline, which led to the job creation of the new generations. I don’t much care about the losses of the prior benefits as I can imagine it did have a tiny impact in the bottom line. I can imagine that today, there are so few of us traveling, that I wonder if Delta can use this recognition as a marketing campaign. Let’s face it, business travel has declined substantially. Every airline wants to find ways to energize travel. What a wonderful marketing campaign to show the travel public how Delta recognizes customer loyalty as an enterprise. How the airline never forgets those that helped them grow to who they are today. So few of us are veterans of Korea and Vietnam. We believe in Delta and effective marketing plan around the Flying Colonel and Flying Orchid can induce many retired and 60+ to select Delta because it’s an Airline that has a long memory for treating passengers well… and not an airline competing in price alone. Is this a missed opportunity for Delta ?

Comments are closed.