Delta Air Lines has been forced to proactively cancel nearly 100 flights this Easter weekend because of a pilot shortage a spokesperson for the Atlanta-based carrier confirmed on Sunday. To get passengers where they need to be, the airline has lifted its middle seat block nearly a month early to free up extra capacity on flights that are still running.
A Delta spokesperson said the pilot shortage had been caused, in part, due to a large number of employees who had vaccinations booked. A similar issue hit regional airline Piedmont over Spring Break, leading the American Eagle operator to ask its pilots to reschedule vaccine jab appointments.
“Delta teams have been working through various factors, including staffing, large numbers of employee vaccinations and pilots returning to active status,” a spokesperson told travel commentator Gary Leff. “We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience and the overwhelming majority have been rebooked for the same-travel day,” a statement from the airline continued.
Pilot shortages have resulted in two mass cancellation events for Delta in just the last six months. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, Delta cancelled nearly 600 flights – an incredibly rare event for an airline that normally prides itself on operational reliability.
At the time, the airline said a surge in COVID-19 infections had been the root cause of the problem with a large number of pilots either sick with the illness or isolating because they had been identified by contact tracers as a close contact of someone who had tested positive.
Now, it is the vaccine that protects people from COVID-19 which is causing a headache for Delta. The work of crew scheduling has been made more complicated because of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules that mean pilots must wait at least 48-hours after receiving a shot.
In response to the crew shortage, Delta has temporarily lifted capacity caps across flights in order to free up seats for passengers whose flights have been cancelled. The middle seat block is expected to be reintroduced on Tuesday before being removed altogether on May 1.
The airline previously said that it was happy to start filling its planes to maximum capacity starting next month because of the success of the vaccination program.
At the height of the pandemic, Delta convinced nearly 2,000 pilots to retire early but like other airlines could soon need to restart hiring new pilots because of a rebound in travel demand. Last week, rival United said it would soon start new hire training for around 300 pilots as early as next month.
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.