Delta cancels flights due to staff shortage, opens intermediate seats


DETROIT – Delta Air Lines canceled about 100 flights Sunday due to staff shortages and opened the middle seats a month earlier than expected to carry more passengers.

The airline says it had more than 1 million passengers in recent days, the highest number since before the coronavirus pandemic began last year.

“We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience, and most have been rebooked for the same day of travel,” the airline said in a statement Sunday.

Delta DAL,
+ 1.14%
took steps to increase passenger capacity, including opening the middle seats on Sunday and Monday, in an effort to accommodate passengers.

On Wednesday, the airline announced that it would stop blocking the middle seats starting in May. The move was taken last April to keep passengers further apart, a policy Delta’s chief executive had repeatedly cited to boost confidence in the airline. Seats will reopen as air travel recovers and more people get vaccinated against COVID-19, the airline said.

Delta said the middle seats were opened for Sunday and Monday only, and its seat blocking policy has not changed. When needed, seats can be unlocked so customers arrive at their destinations the same day.

“Delta teams have been working through various factors, including staffing, a large number of employee vaccinations, and pilots returning to active status,” the airline said in the statement. Some employees were having adverse side effects from being vaccinated.

On Sunday, websites at three Delta hubs showed 33 canceled arrival or departure flights. There were 19 at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, another 11 at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, and three more at Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport.

Delta said Wednesday that nearly 65% ​​of people who flew Delta last year expect to have at least one dose of the new vaccines by May 1. That gave Delta the assurance of ending seating limits, he said.

The airline industry was divided on the usefulness of locking middle seats to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 on a flight. Airlines like Delta, Southwest LUV,
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Alaska ALK,
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and JetBlue JBLU,
+ 0.15%
limited seats for months, while United Airlines UAL,
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I never did and American AAL,
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he did it only briefly.

Social distancing is difficult, if not impossible, on an airplane, even with empty middle seats, a point United CEO Scott Kirby made many times to explain his airline’s resistance to seat blocking.

Air travel in the United States is recovering from pandemic lows. More than 1 million travelers have passed through US airports during each of the past 20 days, although March traffic is still almost half the same month in 2019.

The numbers are on the rise heading into the crucial summer vacation season. Last summer was a catastrophe for airlines, contributing to Delta’s annual loss of more than $ 12 billion. Airlines are eager to increase revenue as quickly as possible, and that means selling more seats.

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