This is downright embarrassing, at least on the surface. Delta ordinarily prides itself in being incredibly punctual, in the past even calling itself “the on-time machine.”
The airline had an operational meltdown over Thanksgiving, then promised to investigate to ensure something similar wouldn’t happen for Christmas, and now… something similar is happening for Christmas. However, unlike over Thanksgiving, this can at least partly be attributed to weather.
Ouch: Delta’s Christmas cancelations
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day aren’t exactly working out great for Delta. Looking at data via FlightAware:
- On December 24 Delta canceled 67 flights, or about 5% of its operation; as a point of comparison, American canceled zero flights and United canceled nine flights
- On December 25 (so far, and it’s only morning) Delta has canceled 123 flights, or about 10% of its operation; as a point of comparison, American canceled one flight and United canceled 28 flights
I’m sure the number of cancelations will only continue to grow throughout the day and over the weekend, given the typical domino effect we see with irregular operations.
In fairness, so far the meltdown hasn’t been quite as bad as it was over Thanksgiving. Just to compare:
- On the day before Thanksgiving Delta canceled 96 flights, or about 4% of its operation
- On Thanksgiving Delta canceled 272 flights, or about 18% of its operation
- On the day after Thanksgiving Delta canceled 162 flights, or about 9% of its operation
However, it’s not even 10AM on the east coast, so I imagine the number of cancelations throughout the day will only continue to grow, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Christmas Day be as bad as Thanksgiving.
What is causing Delta’s operational issues?
First of all, perhaps Delta deserves a bit of leniency for some of the Christmas cancelations. The airline is dealing with weather at some of its hubs, and in particular in Minneapolis, which saw heavy snow. However, not all problems can be attributed to that.
I think it’s safe to assume that at least some of Delta’s operational issues over Christmas are related to the Atlanta-based carrier’s issues over Thanksgiving.
Long story short, Delta has a shortage of pilots right now. Due to the huge number of pilots who have retired and taken early-outs, pilots are having to be retrained on new aircraft, and that’s not an overnight process.
As a result, Delta doesn’t have enough pilots to fly the right kinds of planes, in particular narrow body aircraft.
Under normal circumstances that’s not an issue, but when Delta tries to increase capacity for the holidays, that’s where it becomes problematic. While the airline probably managed to schedule just enough pilots, this left zero room for pilots being sick, for there being operational issues, etc.
It’s totally fair if Delta is simply spread too thin and can’t add capacity. The question is why the airline keeps over-scheduling itself, when this is simply a repeat of what happened over Thanksgiving, a situation that the airline promised to learn from.
It’s also worth acknowledging that American and United face many of the same issues as Delta, but the airlines didn’t experience mass cancelations over either holiday. In fairness, they didn’t deal with quite the same weather, though.
Delta is approaching 200 cancelations between yesterday and today, and I imagine that number will keep growing. Obviously airlines are in a tough spot, and I can totally understand how the airline might have a shortage of pilots available to fly the right planes.
The embarrassing part is that Delta has been by far the worst of the “big three” US carriers when it comes to operational reliability over both sets of holidays.
Ultimately it’s about managing expectations — Delta should have seen this coming and reduced the schedule in advance, rather than leaving so many passengers stranded on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
(Tip of the hat to View from the Wing)