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Embarrassing: The Meltdown of Christmas in Delta | One mile at a time

Embarrassing: The Meltdown of Christmas in Delta |  One mile at a time

This is frankly embarrassing. Delta prides itself on being incredibly accurate, even in the past it used to pride itself on being a « time machine ».

The airline had my operating meltdown over Thanksgiving, then promised to investigate to ensure nothing similar happened on Christmas, and now … something similar happens on Christmas.

Ouch: Cancel Christmas Delta

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day don’t do well for Delta. Look at me Data via FlightAware:

  • On December 24, Delta canceled 67 flights, or about 5% of its operation; By comparison, America canceled zero and United canceled nine
  • On December 25 (so far, morning only) Delta has canceled 123 flights, or about 10% of its operation; By comparison, America canceled one flight and United canceled 28

I’m sure the number of cancellations will continue to grow throughout the day and over the weekend, given the typical domino effect that we see with irregular operations.

In fairness, the meltdown is so far It wasn’t quite as bad as it was during Thanksgiving. Just for comparison:

  • The day before Thanksgiving, Delta canceled 96 flights, or about 4% of its operation
  • On Thanksgiving Day, Delta canceled 272 flights, or about 18% of its operation
  • The day after Thanksgiving, Delta canceled 162 flights, or about 9% of its operation

However, it’s not until 10 am on the East Coast, so I imagine the number of cancellations throughout the day will continue to increase, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Christmas as bad as Thanksgiving.

What causes delta operational problems?

I think it’s safe to assume Delta operational issues over Christmas It’s largely related to the Atlanta-based carrier issues during Thanksgiving. Admittedly, the weather during Christmas is a bit more than Thanksgiving in Delta Centers, but nothing would fully explain the number of cancellations.

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Long story short, Delta has a shortage of pilots at the moment. Due to the huge number of pilots who have retired and exited early, pilots have to be retrained on new aircraft, and this is not an overnight operation.

As a result, Delta does not have enough pilots to fly the right types of aircraft, particularly narrow-body aircraft.

Under normal circumstances, that’s not a problem, but when Delta tries to increase capacity for the holidays, this is where it becomes a problem. While the airline may have been able to schedule enough pilots, this left no room for pilots who became ill, due to operational issues, etc.

It is quite fair if the delta is very diffuse and cannot add capacity. The question is why the airline keeps scheduling too much, when this is just a repeat of what happened during Thanksgiving, a situation that the airline promised to learn from.

It’s also worth admitting that American and United face many of the same issues as Delta, but the airlines have yet to experience mass cancellations.


Delta is close to 200 cancellations between yesterday and today, and I imagine that number will continue to grow. Airlines are clearly in a difficult position, and I can totally understand how a company can have a shortage of pilots available to fly the right aircraft.

The embarrassing part is Delta is making the same mistake she did on Thanksgiving. Ultimately it’s all about managing expectations – Delta was supposed to see this coming and shrink the schedule ahead of time, rather than letting many passengers stranded on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

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(Tip of the hat’s View from the suite)

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