Summer is almost here, and travelers are ready to take off in massive numbers—the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) earlier this month said it is preparing for a summer travel season with passenger volumes that will match and occasionally exceed those of 2019 for the first time since the start of the pandemic. And while that’s mostly good news for the travel industry, too much of a good thing can just be, well, simply too much to handle as the airline industry races to rebuild following the near global shutdown of air travel due to the pandemic.
The result is that airlines are having to reign it in a bit, and the latest to do so is Delta Air Lines, which this week announced it is going to remove about 100 daily flights from its schedule this summer.
“More than any time in our history, 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’s chief customer experience officer Allison Ausband, said in a statement on Thursday.
Given the staffing and operations challenges, Delta announced that it will be reducing service by about 100 daily departures between July 1 and August 7, primarily in the United States and Latin America. Delta also said that it will “continue to proactively adjust select flights in the coming weeks.”
“Rebuilding Delta’s full-scale operation to serve the increasing number of customers who want to fly with us has been a huge feat—and not without challenges,” the carrier stated.
The airline said it will notify customers of itinerary changes, delays, and flight cancellations “as far in advance as possible” by sending updates directly to a mobile device or via email. “When cancellations become necessary as a last resort, Delta works to make changes that impact the fewest customers with the shortest delays. And, whenever possible, Delta teams strive to cancel flights far enough in advance to notify customers before arriving at the airport,” the carrier stated.
Additionally, Delta will issue flight waivers for flights affected by inclement weather and will give those travelers the option to move their travel ahead of or to just after the weather event, something it has already done for flights in the Southeast and Northeast for travel May 26–28.
Delta is just the latest in a string of airlines to proactively scale back on summer flights. JetBlue Airways last month said it will be slashing its summer schedules by 10 percent ahead of what promises to be one of the busiest travel periods in years.
JetBlue said its reduced schedule “will add more buffer room throughout the day to make up for operational disruptions and put less stress on its crew resources,” according to a statement from Joanna Geraghty, the carrier’s president. Noting that airlines are anticipating “a record-breaking summer,” Geraghty said that JetBlue will prune flights and step up hiring and training, especially in one area where consumer frustrations are running high—customer support centers. Call volume and hold times shot up last month across the airline industry, and carriers are struggling to hire and train new workers in a tight labor market.
Alaska Airlines, whose pilots are in the midst of voting on a possible strike (Alaska has said it’s “committed to reaching an agreement for a contract that is good for our pilots”), recently cut its flights through June by about 2 percent in an effort to minimize disruptions. Southwest Airlines, too, recently trimmed around 8,000 flights from its June schedule, after axing 14,500 flights from March through May. And some airlines, including American and United, have even substituted bus transfers in some short-haul markets, a move several reports have attributed to the ongoing pilot shortage.
As for Delta, the airline said it expects approximately 2.5 million customers to fly over Memorial Day weekend, a 25 percent increase over 2021. To keep up with the rising number of passengers, Delta said it is adding several hundred new pilots and flight attendants to its network every month.
>> Next: What JetBlue’s Cuts, Alaska’s Pilot Strike Mean for Summer Travel
Michelle Baran Michelle Baran is the senior travel news editor at AFAR where she oversees breaking news, travel intel, pandemic coverage, airline, cruise, and consumer travel news. Baran joined AFAR in August 2018 after an 11-year run as a senior editor and reporter at leading travel industry newspaper Travel Weekly.