MIAMI – Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines (DL) was forced to cancel more than 250 flights on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. This has made passengers face another holiday season of travel disruption.

Despite government health officials pleading with American’s to remain at home this Christmas to limit the spread of the novel Coronavirus, the mass cancellations came as passenger numbers hit 60% of pre-pandemic levels on December 23.

When the airline pro-actively cancelled 250 flights in response to a rapidly developing storm in Minneapolis-St.Paul, the busy holiday travel season got off to a poor start for the carrier and its customers.

To make matters worse for DL, the airline was then hit with staffing woes that resulted in 100 additional flights being axed on Christmas Day from schedules. During the Thanksgiving holidays, the same problems struck DL, leading to hundreds of cancellations of flights for several days due to DL not having enough staff allocated.

As for the Christmas disruption, a Delta spokesperson says “a number of factors have pressured our ability to timely staff several dozen schedules flights on Friday.”

Delta Air Lines hand sanitizer while boarding. Photo: Delta Air Lines.

The Downside of Downsizing

According to international Flight Attendant Mateusz Maszczynski via, the DL branch of the Air Lines Pilots Association (ALPA) believes the carrier’s downsizing of its workforce in response to the drop in demand through the pandemic has backfired as demand suddenly spikes.

“Due to the downsizing of the airline and trying to manage the size of the workforce… there’s been some training issues that’s been created from moving Pilots from airplane to airplane and getting them restrained,” explained ALPA spokesperson, First Officer Chris Riggins. “It’s basically a problem of trying to get the Pilots to the right place at the right time.”

ALPA has previously accused DL of over increasing the number of Pilot in training, which means that while there are enough Pilots on the employee register to operate the schedule, there are not enough Pilots available right now with the right qualifications.

The airline has downplayed that version of events, although it admits that in recent months there have been some problems with training. The carrier also said that in November, Pilot sickness levels increased by over 100% due to COVID-19. This meant Pilots, along with any colleagues they served with in the days before their diagnosis, had to set-isolate for almost two weeks.

However, according to a DL Pilot who contacted Airways, after rejecting using the same surplus manning measures that American Airlines (AA), United Airlines (UA), Southwest Airlines (AS) and Alaska Airlines (AS) implemented, DL management focused on using the possibility of Pilot furloughs as a way “to pry contract concessions from us.”

In his view, by keeping this posture while this bargaining process played out, the carrier lost valuable time and attention, leaving staffing unbalances and recency training deficiencies, mostly for A220 and A320 copilots. “It was like a poker bluff that management won from the Pilots but lost for the airline and its customers.”

Featured image: Delta Air Lines MD88. Photo: William Filion Sauro