Warning: Delta Cancelling Flights In Advance, To Reduce Cancellations On Day Of Travel

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:

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.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. Here’s hoping these meltdowns lead to Bastian’s woke behind getting kicked to the curb! He has completely mis-managed this airline throughout the entire pandemic and aftermath!

  2. Can’t be no worse than in 2020 when the pandemic started. Every one of my flights were cancelled or part of it totally changed without notice. I have two flights coming up and they’ve already changed twice, so they will probably be cancelled for July and August.

  3. Everything was expected, kill mask mandate, employee got infected and can’t work. It happened when EU did it, now we are doing the same dumb thing and act surprised.

  4. I assume by cancelling in advance they can’t/won’t put you on another airline whereas if they cancelled on day of travel they would.

  5. All those sick calls because mask mandate is done and people are getting sick again. That is the part they aren’t reporting, same at UA and AA. Bbuckle up folks it’s about to be a crazy summer!

  6. @Fly So Hard – then why did it only affect Delta last weekend? I’d note that reported cases were at the lowest in the Southeast (which includes Atlanta)…

  7. Delta canceled my flight a week before departure. That flight now shows as “sold out” on their platforms. Appears they want to avoid displaying their service shortcomings.

  8. Wow. Can’t believe Tim Dunn hasn’t jumped in with some amazing spin doctoring of delta’s poor performance

  9. Their Skyteam partner KLM is also cancelling flights and offering changes (4/25 to 6/1 currently) because AMS is having a meltdown due to lack of staff.

  10. I just had a horrific experience last week flying DL to/from Panama. Outbound flight DL 1753 cancelled on 5/15 and placed on the same flight 24 hours later but downgraded from first class with no compensation offered. Return flight DL 1754 was delayed by 18 hours.

  11. The sky priority agent assist line at ATL was about an hour long today before they decided to close it and send everyone outside to curbside check in. Lots of pax needing to be rebooked.

  12. Every single US airline has reduced capacity in order to deal with crew shortages – and that has been the case since the summer of 2020. Delta is not unique.

    According to the latest DOT Air Travel Consumer Report, Delta has cancelled the lowest percentage of flights so far this year and that was true in 2021 of the largest mainland airlines.

    Delta is no different than the rest of the industry in deteriorating operational reliability.

    You did report that AS’ pilots just voted near unanimously to strike, didn’t you, Gary?

  13. Stupid Florida judge and his mask ruling — he had to create a COVID-19 spike amongst airline employees. New variant leads to more fevers/feeling terrible/etc.

    Two + years on and the US still hasn’t learned how to live with COVID (hint: it’s not like living as if COVID didn’t exist).

    Sad, sad, sad, sad.

  14. It will spread to other airlines. There are huge shortages of airport workers of all types. TSA is just a simple example. But like every business in America, Delta needs employees and cannot rapidly hire and train them. Millions of baby boomers are retiring and there are not bodies to replace them or their knowledge. Delta actually didn’t lay off workers. Instead Delta enticed employees to retire early. And that worked for them exceptionally well! But no one could predict how bad the shortage of working bodies would be! That is why this is a continuing problem!

  15. Short of staff….after 50 BILLION tax dollars to keep staff on hand so this wouldn’t happen…and then they sell flights they can’t fly and float the money….good old USA capitalism. When the banks cried they needed money for bailouts I thought if finances go down, we all go down, stupid me, they gave the execs raises and bonuses with that money, then when the airlines did the same thing I said let them all fail, I KNOW what they will do with that money, and sure as hell the same thing happened. They fired everyone and sucked up the cash. I wish we had let Asian and Middle Eastern airlines have all those routes. So now the airlines are selling tickets for flights they know they cannot staff, cancelling them in advance, screw the American people that bailed their butts out, your vacation just ended before it started. Sorry if you lost money on hotels, my bad. Better luck next year!! US airlines are the worst.

  16. Fingers can be pointed at every airline and FAA , DOT the list goes on. These airlines got rid of all the season employees. And now that got to change the whole the work environment. This younger generation isn’t working like it use to be. First I only speak Delta. Half of the work force for Delta Air Lines was contracted especially out of ATL not including smaller airports. That’s a major problem from the beginning. High turnover an employees not being properly trained. The operations in ATL is horrible. Doing the pandemic it was way worst. Delta sold over half of its work force over to a contractor Aldenbright /Unifi. That says a lot right here in ATL shortages all around everyday security, ground operations and the list goes on. One training class come thru training for ramp they end up losing half of the class with in a year. So questions why are their staff shortages? They got plenty money from government. Research the company Unifi this One company have taken over almost all airports operations over the world. The FAA is allowing it.

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