Delta meltdown over? Monday flights mostly on time (so far)

USA TODAY - Delta Air Lines’ flight operation appears to be running near normal Monday morning, ending a five-day run of extreme disruptions to the carrier’s schedules.

The airline had canceled only four flights and most flights were running on time as of 9 a.m. ET, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware.

If that holds, Delta would appear to have finally found a way to reset its operations after an extended round of severe weather sent its schedules into a tailspin last Wednesday. The carrier has canceled more than 3,000 flights and delayed thousands more during the five-day stretch.

Delta’s problems were exacerbated Thursday when storms slowed Thursday flights Delta’s hubs in New York and Detroit. Those problems were less severe than the ones that slammed into Georgia and the Southeast on Wednesday, but they only seemed to knock Delta’s operation further off track.

The carrier canceled hundreds of more flights into the weekend and delayed thousands of others, forcing tens of thousands of customers to scramble for new plans right as the busy spring break travel season picked up steam.

Delta apologized to customers and was waiving change fees for many customers looking for new flight options following the operational meltdown. But the company also warned fliers that finding empty seats in the coming weeks could be challenging because “heavy spring break travel means open seats are very limited for rebooking.”

The scope of the disruption to Delta’s network that began with the Wednesday storms has been surprisingly large. It marks the airline’s worst operational run since a computer outage in August 2016 plunged the airline into crisis mode. And it was just this past January that another computer issue caused a disruption that spanned two days and caused the cancellation of nearly 300 flights and delays to many others.

Delta has blamed Wednesday’s “unprecedented” storms and the ensuing stormy weather later in the week for keeping its crews and aircraft off schedule. More than half the carrier’s planes fly through the airline’s busy Atlanta hub on a typical day, so a severe shutdown there could indeed wreak havoc on the company’s nationwide flight schedule.

Federal regulations setting rest rules and limits on flight time also made it difficult to find crews able to fill in for off-schedule flights, Delta has added.

But at least some pilots complained to CNN that kinks in Delta’s employee communication channels also have hindered the carrier’s recovery.

For now, even with its schedules apparently on the mend, Delta faces the unenviable task of getting thousands of stranded passengers on to their final destinations. That will be no small challenge with flights already packed with spring break fliers.

Further complicating Delta’s ability to help fliers affected by the operational woes is the 2015 termination of an “interline” agreement with American that allowed the airlines to easily put passengers on each other's flights.

That ended when Delta hiked the pre-negotiated rates it would have charged American to put passengers on its flights. At the time, Delta said that the number of passengers American was sending to Delta during “irregular operations” – such as weather – far outstripped the number Delta was sending to American.

But, American balked at the terms and the deal was terminated. Now, Delta agents can only transfer stranded fliers (and their bags) to American -- the USA's largest carrier -- by buying full-fare tickets, which is uncommon in the industry.

Copyright 2017 USA TODAY


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