Delta Air Lines will trim its schedule, beginning over the busy Memorial Day holiday weekend and into August, as it faces numerous operational challenges from air traffic control to sick staff.
The Atlanta-based carrier told employees in a memo on May 25 that it would “thin” schedules over the Memorial Day weekend — the unofficial start of summer in the U.S. — and through June to give staff “more buffer” to deal with operational challenges outside of Delta’s control. Reductions would be expanded to roughly 100 daily departures, or less than 2 percent of its full schedule, in the U.S. and near Latin America from July 1 through August 7.
Delta has cancelled 53 flights on May 26, and another 33 on May 27 — the Friday before Memorial Day — according to data from Flightaware.com on May 26.
“The various factors currently impacting our operation – weather and air traffic control, vendor staffing, increased Covid case rates contributing to higher-than-planned unscheduled absences in some work groups – are resulting in an operation that isn’t consistently up to the standards Delta has set for the industry in recent years,” Delta Chief Customer Experience Officer Allison Ausband said in a statement.
Pilot staffing, which is challenging many U.S. airlines, does not appear an issue at Delta. The airline trained 510 pilots in March and another 540 in April — both records — Ausband and Delta Chief of Operations John Laughter told staff in the memo.
Delta is the latest major U.S. airlines to cut flights during the busy summer travel season. Alaska Airlines and JetBlue Airways both pulled down schedules into the summer after staffing and air traffic control-related disruptions in April. Other carriers, including American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, have forecast lower-than-hoped-for capacity for the second and third quarters citing staffing constraints.
Several other carriers, including JetBlue, Southwest, and Spirit Airlines, have also cited air traffic control as an issue affecting their operations. Earlier in May, the Federal Aviation Administration held “productive” meetings with airlines and other aviation groups to reduce delays on flights to, from, and over Florida following staffing issues at Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center. However, many airlines — including Delta — expect air traffic control-related delays and cancellations to continue this summer.
The schedule reductions come despite seemingly inelastic demand for travel. On May 26, both JetBlue and Southwest reported stronger-than-expected demand trends to date in the second quarter that will see their revenues for the period come in above or at the top of forecast. High demand and lower capacity will translate to higher airfares for travelers.
“We know there is extreme demand to fly a very full schedule, but we continue to adjust our network and other aspects of our operation to balance customer demand for Delta with the realities of our operating environment,” Ausband and Laughter said.
Delta planned to fly 84 percent of its 2019 capacity this summer prior to the latest cuts.