Flight cancellations and short-staffing are already marring the start of the busy summer travel season, as Delta Air Lines warned of disruptions to flights over Memorial Day weekend and announced cuts to its flight schedule due to operational challenges.
Facing weather disruptions, short-staffing and an increase in COVID-19 cases among its employees, Atlanta-based Delta is cutting flights over the Memorial Day holiday period and through the summer.
That promises to cause frustrations for the millions of travelers expected to take to the skies for vacations this weekend and through the summer, amid a rebound in travel that has driven record demand in some areas. Delta alone expects to handle 2.5 million passengers over the Memorial Day weekend, up 25% from 2021.
Delta said it will send updates to customers if their flights are disrupted. Rescheduling passengers onto other flights could be challenging because many flights are fully booked for the holiday period.
Among the problems is that Delta has been struggling to get enough pilots hired and trained to operate its schedule as it ramps up flights. The airline is cutting about 100 flights a day for July and early August, amounting to about 2% of the airline's flights, according to a spokesman.
The airline also issued a waiver for passengers scheduled to travel to, from or through its hub in Atlanta and cities in the Northeast for May 26-28, saying it will waive the fare difference for passengers who want to rebook flights to avoid disruptions. It cited weather as a reason for the waiver, though the forecast for this weekend is relatively mild.
"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," said Delta chief customer experience officer Allison Ausband in a written statement.
These issues have been affecting the airline's flights for months.
"We've never rebuilt an airline before, so we'll continue to assess, adjust and improve how we fly," Delta said in a memo late Wednesday to its employees. Among the changes the airline has made is how it schedules flights throughout the day at its Atlanta hub to smooth out peaks that are difficult to handle.
Delta's cutback of its summer flight schedule comes after similar moves by other airlines facing staffing issues including American, JetBlue and Spirit.
Pressures on the aviation system are also affecting the experience travelers face when they arrive at the airport, where long security lines and short-staffing at airport restaurants are making the travel experience more fraught.
Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport officials are now advising travelers to get to the airport 2.5 hours before domestic flights, with security lines that can be 30 to 45 minutes long during busy periods.
Parking at the domestic terminal is also more of a hassle this year. Thousands of parking spaces in the South parking deck have been closed for construction for the early stages of a multi-year airport project to reinforce and eventually replace Hartsfield-Jackson's aging domestic terminal parking decks. That significantly reduces parking available next to the terminal.
As a result, daily parking in the airport's parking decks often reaches capacity during busy periods, forcing motorists to reroute and look for another place to park. The airport recommends travelers instead consider parking at the remote ATL West deck, which is connected to the terminal via free SkyTrain.©2022 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Visit at ajc.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.