Delta Air Lines has spent years working on its operations. The airline has invested and focused on running its operations with as few cancellations and delays as possible. However, since the start of the pandemic, especially at the end of 2020 and into early 2021, Delta has faced high-profile cancellations surrounding holiday weekends. Now, Delta’s executives believe that the carrier will be well-positioned for the summer.
Delta Air Lines on staffing
On the airline’s first-quarter earnings call, CEO Ed Bastian was asked about staffing. On the bottlenecks Delta is facing on getting back into gear, Mr. Bastian stated the following:
“I’d say the biggest bottleneck – two bottlenecks – that we face, which I feel very good about where we’re at, are clearly getting our pilot training and our pilots into the right categories and ready to fly, and, secondly, maintenance – making sure that we got our aircraft and our engines and all the work ready for a pretty quick rebound.”
He then addressed the airline’s high-profile cancellations, including around Easter:
“We had some cancellations on Easter Sunday, a couple weeks ago, about 100 in the business, and we’ve noticed that’s been a trend on some of the holiday weekends. But for the last few holidays – certainly President’s Day and Easter – not nearly the challenges that we experienced earlier in Thanksgiving and Christmas, and it’s because our business is dealing with the tension between making sure that we’ve got as many costs out and saved and people on – whether it’s voluntary leave or some other alternative play – and being ready to respond to demand as it comes back.”
Holiday cancellations at Delta
Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter are three of the most high-profile holidays in the last few months when Delta has faced cancellations across its mainline operations. The issue has largely been due to staffing issues.
Mr. Bastian, however, explained that the airline had spent time learning what went wrong and believes it is in a good spot for the summer:
“I feel pretty good about where we sit for the coming spring and summer. We spend an awful lot of time understanding that. You also need to appreciate that, in certain parts of the country, the virus is growing at a faster rate than others. We’ve had vaccinations moving and that’s impacted a little bit on the pilot availability because pilots need to sit for a couple of days every time they get a shot. But all in, I think our team is well-positioned and ready for the rebound that we see coming this summer.”
Delta and its pilots have previously indicated that the airline faced staffing shortages due to the health crisis. Some pilots have come down with the virus, and others that have left the airline, whether permanently or temporarily, have caused some difficulties for the airline in making sure it has the crew to run its full schedule on holidays.
Getting employees back in the action
In January, Delta announced that it would be bringing additional pilot staffing back in advance of summer 2022. That memo was sent out when the airline faced a first quarter that seemed to be a continuation of the difficult fourth quarter of 2020.
Delta is not the only airline facing issues getting staff back in the air, but it is a deliberate process that takes time. Unfortunately for Delta, this has left some of the carrier’s holiday weekends short-staffed.
The other thing Delta is hoping to take care of before the summer is employee vaccinations. Federal authorities have stated that pilots must spend 48 hours out of the cockpit after receiving a dose of a vaccine. If a pilot receives two shots, the 48-hour period applies after each shot and is not avoidable.
With its pilots and flight attendants vaccinated and ready to fly, the airline believes it can pull off summer. Of course, time will tell whether or not the airline is ready for the summer.
Delta does not believe it is facing some of the staffing shortages that other companies in the tourism industry have. Mr. Bastian stated the following:
“I don’t think it’s an issue for the airlines, but I know the hotels, the rental car providers that you say are having a difficult time getting staff back, given the level of unemployment and other stimulus that’s been provided into the general economy, we’re not experiencing that issue at all here at Delta. Our people have been at work throughout the entire time.”
Delta has benefited from three rounds of support from the United States government. The airline took part in the Payroll Support Program (PSP), which has covered employee salaries.
Do you think Delta is right in expressing optimism over its summer operations? Let us know in the comments!