Delta Air Lines has canceled over 100 flights over the busy Easter weekend, mostly attributed to crew shortages. The majority of the cancelations occurred on Easter Sunday. In the wash-up, reports are emerging that Delta did not have enough pilots rostered on to deal with the added capacity. It is the third major holiday period in a row Delta Air Lines has had problems with cancelations.
No forced layoffs, but lots of pilots have left Delta Air Lines
It is a point of pride in the Delta C-suites that the airline avoided involuntary furloughs and layoffs last year. But around 18,000 Delta employees voluntarily took early retirement or otherwise left the airline, including pilots. There are now around 12,500 pilots at Delta or approximately 16.9% of Delta’s overall workforce.
It seems that just isn’t enough. While all of Delta’s pilots are on full pay courtesy of the latest CARES Act funding round, not all are on full hours. Most heavily impacted by reduced or zero flying hours are the less senior pilots. That’s the cohort you might usually expect to see rostered on over popular holiday periods while senior pilots enjoy a break.
“Delta teams have been working through various factors, including staffing, large numbers of employee vaccinations, and pilots returning to active status,” an airline spokesperson said in a statement.
The increase in passenger demand takes Delta Air Lines by surprise
The rebound in domestic travel demand appears to have taken not just Delta but most United States-based airlines by surprise. In the wake of the 2020 calendar year results earlier this year, Delta’s executives were relatively upbeat about 2021 but tempered expectations for the first half of the year.
However, since the last week of February, Delta has been operating more flights around the United States than it did in the comparable 2019 period. This week, Delta Air Lines is operating over 3,700 domestic flights a day. In the same week in 2019, Delta operated just over 3,400 domestic flights a day.
Granted, not all those flights are full. Delta is still flying its planes with the middle seat blocked. But blocked middle seat or not, Delta still needs two pilots in its planes, and it has more flights in the air than ever. What it does not seem to have are the pilots to crew all these flights – especially on peak days like over Easter.
In terms of domestic flight numbers, Delta’s busiest day in years was Friday, April 2. Delta operated 3,991 domestic flights that day. On Saturday, April 3, Delta operated 3,622 domestic flights, and on Sunday, April 4, Delta operated 3,751 domestic flights.
Pilot shortage a continuing issue at Delta
There’s some chit-chat that Delta’s shortage of pilots has been an emerging issue for some time now. The airline reportedly let too many pilots voluntarily go last year and now does not have the capacity to deal with the surge in demand. Delta’s senior management has reportedly been aware of the emerging pilot shortage but has failed to address it. Complicating matters is the diversity of Delta’s fleet, and the fact many pilots are not trained/certified to fly on the many of the planes Delta is currently using.
Delta’s international network is running but substantially scaled back. A significant portion of Delta’s international fleet remains parked or in storage. But a First Officer who typically flies a Boeing 767-300 may not have clearance to fly an Airbus A320-200.
On busy holiday periods like Easter, when passenger traffic picks up and crew look to get rostered off, Delta apparently did not have the crewing resources to meet its scheduled commitments.
What do you think? Did Delta let too many pilots go last year? Have they taken their eye off the ball this year when it comes to retraining displaced pilots? Post a comment and let us know.