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.
Now they’re cancelling more flights in advance, in order to reduce cancellations on the day of travel. And they’re starting now – for this weekend.
Saturday was hardly the first Delta meltdown, though that doesn’t really set them apart from other airlines. American, United, Southwest, JetBlue and Spirit have all had their operations fall apart.
- There haven’t been enough employees to operate flights. This can become especially acute at the end of the month when they ‘run out’ of employees with available hours to fly planes, especially as backups when others call out sick – or when weather and other issues put people and planes out of position.
- Delta historically was better than other airlines at managing its operation, but they cut over 30% of their staff during the pandemic. Much of the knowledge about how to run an airline seems to have been lost.
Now Delta is cutting back its schedule for the summer – and they’re even cutting back starting this weekend with mere days’ advance notice. The goal is that customers won’t have flights cancel on them at the airport. They should have crew to operate if they’re trying to operate fewer flights. There will hopefully be some margin for error.
But it also means that Delta has been selling a product that they could not deliver. This, too, is hardly unique among the major airlines who have been cutting back flight schedules in the face of insufficient staffing.
Delta’s internal communication about the flight cuts was first reported by aviation watchdog JonNYC:
Management acknowledging understaffed. Reducing block hours in July and August pic.twitter.com/P7zEZh6lCX
— 🇺🇦 JonNYC 🇺🇦 (@xJonNYC) May 26, 2022
It’s actually these cutbacks which are why airfares are so high. Airlines want to operate more flights than they are operating, but they are unable to do so.
That’s why it’s not high fuel prices driving ticket costs – fuel increases make flights less profitable, leading to schedule cuts, and the ensuing reduction in demand leads to higher prices (fewer marginal seats that get sold inexpensively, only the seats selling for more than get flown). But airlines aren’t cutting because of fuel prices, even at current levels of fuel they’d be willing to fly more.
Instead this just underscores the way in which airline subsidies during the pandemic were a scam on taxpayers. Delta reduced employee headcount during the pandemic by 30% even though taxpayers gave them nearly $10 billion for staffing, the purpose of which was ‘to be ready to fly when customers returned’ which Delta – and others – did not do.
As one of the busiest travel weekends of the year is upon us, Delta says it’s already cancelling flights and that it is for your benefit that they do so.