Delta Air Lines cancels flights massively, faces crew shortage

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Nearly 100 flights were canceled by the American air carrier Delta Air Lines on Easter weekend due to a flight crew shortage. The lack of available pilots was partly caused by a high number of them taking their COVID-19 vaccine shots on the weekend.

Delta Air Lines faced a spike in passenger demand for air travel and carried more than a million travelers through the Easter weekend. However, the company was forced to cancel up to 100 flights in and out of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson (ATL), Detroit Metropolitan (DTW), and Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) Airport between April 4-5, 2021, due to a staff shortage. The shortage was caused by “various factors” including “large numbers of employee vaccinations, and pilots returning to active status”, the airline spokesman told Bloomberg. 

“We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience and the majority have been rebooked for the same travel day,” announced Delta.

To mitigate cancellations, the airline decided to temporarily open its middle-seat option so it could re-accommodate passengers on flights on the same day, despite a previous commitment to keep the middle seat blocked through April 2021. Delta Air Lines implemented the middle-seat blocking policy in April 2020, as a means to ensure social distancing on board the aircraft.

The guidance over the aircrew vaccination process issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in February 2021 indicates that 48 hours after receiving each dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson vaccines, a flight crew member “may not act as pilot in command, or in any other capacity as a required flight crew member”. Delta Air Lines explained that a high percentage of its crew members had vaccination planned and it was one of the reasons why the complicated crew scheduling resulted in the massive flight cancelation.

But it was not the first time when Delta Air Lines had to cancel operations due to staff shortage. In November 2020, during the Thanksgiving weekend, the company made another massive cancelation when it stopped up to 600 flights. Delta stated that the reason for the move was a significant growth of the COVID-19 infection cases among its employees at the time.

In March 2021, another American air carrier Piedmont Airlines, a wholly-owned subsidiary of American Airlines (A1G) (AAL), faced an aircrew scheduling problem over the vaccination process. The airline reportedly informed 500 pilots that it would not be able to release any additional staff for the vaccination on the weekend between March 19-21, 2021, due to the high demand for air travel. The air carrier even denied the time off to get a vaccine for several of its pilots due to a lack of sufficient reserve pilots to cover shifts of the temporarily off-duty flight crew.

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