Delta Air Lines passengers are facing another holiday period of disruption after the Atlanta-based carrier was forced to cancel more than 250 flights on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The mass cancellations came as passenger numbers topped 60 per cent of pre-pandemic levels on December 23 despite government health officials pleading with American’s to stay at home this Christmas to reduce the spread of the novel Coronavirus.
The busy holiday travel season got off to a bad start for Delta when the airline pro-actively cancelled 250 flights in response to a fast-evolving storm in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area which smothered the area with several inches of snow.
If weather-related disruption wasn’t bad enough, the airline was then hit with staffing woes that resulted in a further 100 flights being axed from schedules on Christmas Day. The same problems hit Delta over the Thanksgiving holidays leading to hundreds of flight cancellations over several days.
After Thanksgiving, Delta blamed an uptick in COVID-19 infections amongst its pilot workforce that in turn meant it simply didn’t have enough staff in the right locations to operate its planned schedule over the busier travel period.
As for the Christmas disruption, a Delta spokesperson says “a number of factors have pressured our ability to timely staff several dozen schedules flights on Friday.”
The Delta branch of the Air Lines Pilots Association (ALPA) believes Delta’s success in downsizing its workforce in response to a drop in demand through the pandemic is causing a headache as demand suddenly spikes.
“Due to the downsizing of the airline and trying to manage the size of the workforce… there’s been some training issues that’s been created from moving pilots from airplane to airplane and getting them restrained,” explained ALPA spokesperson, First Officer Chris Riggins.
“It’s basically a problem of trying to get the pilots to the right place at the right time”.
ALPA has previously accused Delta of stuffing up pilot training programs meaning that while there are enough pilots on the employee register to work the schedule, there aren’t enough pilots with the right qualifications available right now.
Delta has downplayed that version of events although admits there have been some issues with training in recent months. To make matters worse, however, Delta says pilot sickness levels increased by over 100 per cent in November.
And because much of the sickness is being driven by COVID-19, pilots are being forced to self-isolate for nearly two weeks, along with any close contacts like colleagues they worked alongside in the days before their diagnosis.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.