Fact: Delta Air Lines cancelled 272 flights yesterday. It has already cancelled 162 flights today.
Fact: Delta is known for its operational reliability and historically has resisted cancelling a single mainline flight.
Question: So what is causing so many cancellations?
Yesterday, I laid out several potential reasons for the cancellations. Poor crew scheduling by Delta? Industrial action by pilots or flight attendants? Poor passenger counts leading to consolidation? All were within the realm of possibility.
Delta still has not specifically addressed the reason for the delay, only stating that “a number of factors have pressured our ability to timely staff several dozen scheduled flights.”
Live and Let’s Fly reached out to the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) for comment and did not hear back.
But over the last 24 hours I have spoken to several pilots and flight attendants concerning what happened.
To be clear, I am not making any definitive statements here, because these are still conversations from employees who are not comfortable going on the record. However, there seem to be three factors which have caused so many delays and cancellations this week.
1.) Pilot Scheduling Software Issue
Delta uses Amazon Web Services (AWS) for its crew scheduling. A multi-hour outage in the United States led to a number of scheduling glitches, prompting cancellations.
2.) Pilot Shortage
Delta added extra Thanksgiving flights in mid-October, after November crews schedules had already been assigned. While Delta hoped that enough pilots would step up to operate extra flights during the holidays (for extra pay), not enough pilots proved willing (many did, just not enough).
3.) Longer-Term Pilot Training Issues
The cancellations yesterday centered on Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s. Delta is experiencing a shortage of qualified pilots to operate these airframes because of a training backlog. Some pilots who were able and willing to operate these fights could not because of insufficient simulator time which are required after months of dormancy.
This third reason in particular was also expressed by a Delta pilot who commented on yesterday’s story, noting:
“Delta does not have enough trained and current pilots because of the massive training backlog management induced starting almost a year ago. Their efforts to manipulate the pilots into concessions by utilizing multiple staffing reorganizations has backfired horribly. We have thousands of pilots sitting on the sidelines because they’re stuck in months-long training cycles – some for the second or third time in a year. Combine that with to 2000 early retirements and 1700+ pilots awaiting 30-hour furloughs, and you have an airline critically short on pilot staffing.”
“It’s very simple math when Delta has induced several thousand pilots into non-operational status because they tried to pressure them into large concession instead of constructively working with the pilots from the beginning.”
Delta’s flight cancellations continue today and appear poised to continue into the weekend. While Delta still has not offered precise reasons for the cancellations, it appears that a software glitch coupled with an insufficient number of pilots either willing or able to operate flights created this perfect storm over Thanksgiving.