Embarrassing: Delta’s Christmas Meltdown | One mile at a time


This is completely embarrassing. Delta usually indicates itself to be incredibly punctual, even in the past as being an “on-time machine”.

The airline did an operational meltdown on Thanksgiving, then promised an investigation to ensure nothing like this would happen for Christmas, and now … something similar is happening for Christmas as well.

Ouch: Delta’s Christmas Cancellation

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are not working great for Delta at all. Viewing data through flightware:

  • On 24 December, Delta canceled 67 flights, or about 5% of its operations; As a point of comparison, American canceled zero flights and United canceled nine flights
  • On 25 December (so far, and it is only dawn) Delta has canceled 123 flights, or about 10% of its operations; As a point of comparison, American canceled one flight and United canceled 28 flights.

I am sure that the number of cancellations will only continue to increase throughout the day and weekend, given the typical domino effect we see with irregular operations.

In fairness, so far Melodown has not been as bad as Thanksgiving. Just to compare:

  • 96 flights were canceled the day before Thanksgiving Delta, or about 4% of its operations
  • The Thanksgiving Delta canceled 272 flights, or about 18% of its operations
  • 162 flights were canceled the day after Thanksgiving Delta, or about 9% of its operations

However, it’s not even 10AM on the East Coast, so I think the number of cancellations will only increase throughout the day, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Christmas day deteriorating as a thank you.

What causes Delta’s operational issues?

I think it’s safe to assume that Delta’s operational issues over Christmas are largely related to the Atlanta-based carrier’s issues of thanksgiving. The delta’s hub is believed to have slightly more weather on Christmas than Thanksgiving, but nothing that would account for the number of cancellations altogether.

Short story, there is a shortage of pilots in the delta right now. Due to the sheer number of pilots, who have retired and exited quickly, the pilots have to move back to the new aircraft, and this is not an overnight process.

As a result, Delta does not have enough pilots to fly the right type of aircraft, especially in narrow body planes.

This is not an issue under normal circumstances, but when Delta tries to increase capacity for the holidays, it becomes problematic. While the airline probably managed to schedule enough pilots, it had zero room for pilots to get sick, for which there were operational issues, etc.

This is perfectly reasonable if the delta is simply stretched too thin and cannot add capacity. The question is why the airline keeps over-scheduling in itself, when all that happened on Thanksgiving is simply a repeat, a situation that the airline promised to learn.

It is also worth acknowledging that American and United face similar issues to Delta, but airlines did not experience mass cancellations.

Ground level

Delta is canceling 200 between yesterday and today, and I think the number will continue to grow. Obviously airlines are in a difficult position, and I can fully understand how airlines may lack the available pilots to fly the right planes.

The embarrassing part is that Delta is making the same mistake as it did on Thanksgiving. Ultimately it is about managing expectations – Delta must have seen it coming and reduced the schedule in advance rather than leaving many passengers stranded on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

(Tip of cap to see from wing)

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