MIAMI – Atlanta-based carrier Delta Air Lines (DL) was forced to cancel nearly 100 flights this Easter weekend due to a pilot shortage.
The shortage was caused in part, according to a DL spokesperson, by a high percentage of the airline’s staff who had vaccinations planned. Due to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations requiring pilots to wait at least 48 hours after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine shot, crew scheduling has become more complicated.
At the start of February, DL started to offer COVID-19 vaccines to all its 75,000 employees, starting with those 65 and older. The airline announced that it was pleased to begin filling its planes to capacity in May thanks to the success of the vaccination campaign.
In addition, in January DL said it would return 400 pilots to full flying status by this summer, the carrier betting that the expansion of coronavirus vaccinations would trigger a rebound in travel demand. The plan “is well ahead” of when the DL originally estimated it would restore pilots to full active status, John Laughter, DL senior vice president of operations, said in a January 21 memo.
Cancelations, Vaccinations and Capacity
According to btimesonline.com, during Spring Break, Piedmont Airlines (PT) experienced a similar problem, prompting the American Eagle operator to ask its pilots to reschedule vaccine appointments.
The news outlet cited the following from DL a spokeswoman: “Delta teams have been working through numerous factors, including staffing, large numbers of employee vaccinations, and pilots returning to active status.”
“We apologize for any inconvenience this has caused our customers, and the vast majority have been rebooked for the same-day travel,” the airline said in a statement.
Due to pilot shortages, DL has had two mass cancellation incidents in the last six months. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, the airline canceled nearly 600 flights. In addition, the carrier proactively canceled 250+ flights over the Christmas holidays due to a developing storm in Minneapolis.
The airline claimed at the time of the Thanksgiving flight cancelation that a rise in COVID-19 infections was the source of the problem, with a large number of pilots becoming ill or isolating themselves because touch tracers had detected them as a near contact with someone who had tested positive.
In response to the crew shortage, Delta has temporarily lifted capacity restrictions across flights to free up seats for passengers whose flights have been canceled. On Tuesday, the middle seat block will be reintroduced before being phased out fully on May 1.
Featured image: Delta Air Lines N123DQ Airbus A220-100. Photo: Michael Rodeback/Airways