3 Links I Love: The Berlin Airport Saga, Delta Meltdown, COVID Safety

Links I Love

This week’s featured link

How To F#€k Up An AirportRadio Spätkauf
I’m so glad a reader pointed me to this 5-part podcast on the new Berlin Brandenburg airport which finally opened last month. The episodes span years, and you get the full story of just how messed up this project was. I didn’t even know the half of it, and I’m really glad I listened. What an absolute disaster. As the title suggests, adult language is used.

Video of the Week: I was turned on this during my appearance on the Airplane Geeks Podcast and holy cow is it amazing. Just imagine Brits going to fly little props in backwater Indonesian markets. It’s a four-part series that I wish ran longer.

Two for the road

Delta MEC Letter from November 30
Here’s what Delta’s pilots say happened during last weekend’s meltdown. And boy, they are not a fan of a certain blogger out there…

Airlines Stir Doubts With ‘Flying Is Safe’ Claim on Covid-19Bloomberg
Oh boy.

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23 comments on “3 Links I Love: The Berlin Airport Saga, Delta Meltdown, COVID Safety

  1. First, let’s remember that the explanation of Delta’s Thanksgiving Day Meltdown is coming from its pilot Union. It will protect its members. However, given that the Company has offered no explanation, its opaqueness may lend some credibility to the ALPA position. If we believe the Union, Delta’s Schedule Planning Department added significant holiday flying without verifying that pilots were available to work the flights. If true, it is indicative of a startling lack of communication between Schedule Planning and Crew Planning & Scheduling.

    Perhaps some of the Schedule Planners who visit this site can shed some light on this. It’s my understanding that Schedule Planning only adds flights if ALL the following criteria are met: 1) There is customer demand; 2) There are available aircraft to accomplish the extra flying; and 3) There are available flight crews to man the operation.

    In his explanation, the Union official cites the cascading effect of retraining pilots on different aircraft and its impact on Delta’s operations. That is not news to those who read The Cranky Flier. As has been pointed out, brand new fuel-efficient A-220s sit, parked, because Delta’s pilot training program is bottle-necked. Meanwhile, Delta is paying pilots to stay home and not even come to work. Perhaps some of those pilots could have been of assistance on Thanksgiving Day??? But then again, perhaps Delta’s pilot force is so fed up with Delta’s handling of this entire crisis that they simply refused to “green slip” (fly overtime) over Thanksgiving, leaving the Company with egg on its face. Given the Company’s reticence, we may never know.

    But it’s clear now that there are major problems at Delta and they have finally spilled out into public view, affecting its once-sterling operational performance. Whether those problems are shockingly poor inter-departmental communication, pissed-off pilots unwilling to fly overtime on a holiday, gridlock in Delta’s Pilot Training department, or all the above, the airline needs to correct these deficiencies before Christmas or resign itself to another debacle if it elects to add late holiday flying once again.

    1. I work in pilot scheduling (not at Delta) and can tell you that while I’m just a lowly scheduler and don’t see or am part of all the conversations that happen, it sometimes feels like we are just expected to “make it happen.” Proud to say over the holiday weekend we did not have any cancelations due to lack of pilots, (and the pressure was on when we got wind of what was happening at Delta).

  2. I am glad that DALPA spoke out.

    “Factually challenged” is the term for lots of what is stated in 2020.

    DALPA’s explanation does in fact square with what the company said and is most plausible.
    The whole reason why DAL agreed to not furlough pilots was to gain some freedom from the cascade of training that happens when a major displacement occurs.

    DALPA did not address – because it is not their domain- that the vast majority of passengers were reaccommodated on flights within hours of their original schedule. That is what can happen when there is a shortage of resources but not a shutdown of the system in a particular location as happens with a major weather event. The impact to passengers was far less than what happened with other airlines early in the pandemic that cancelled flights – which has been noted on this site – and numerous weather-related cancellations which happen every year and will happen again this year in places like Chicago and New York.

    AAL has furloughed thousands of pilots and continues to do so, UAL pilots had to agree to a 3 tier pay scale in order to save jobs, and LUV just issued large numbers of WARN letters to pilots. JBLU is warning that deep cuts are coming to their employees because they got their network strategy wrong.

    Delta’s Thanksgiving was messy operationally but far less real impact to customers. Meanwhile, Delta employees are in an enviable position of job security and retained pay compared to their peers.

    Delta said they would address these problems so that this is not repeated not just during Christmas holidays but long after.

    Given that covid case counts in the US continue to rise, CF’s weekly reports will continue to show dramatic reductions in capacity. Delta’s financial situation is now stronger than most of the industry.

    They ultimately didn’t need to try to add capacity and reduced demand will put the pilot capacity back in line with passenger demand.

    1. Yes, your excellent point that AA has furloughed thousands of pilots and that UA is hurting and that WN has issued WARN notices to 1,221 pilots and that JetBlue is going to feel the heat soon…..the sum total of ALL of that……combined with your assertion that Delta and its employees are in the catbird’s seat, on top of the industry…..still begs the following question: How come all the industry losers and laggards managed to get Thanksgiving right while Delta failed so miserably?

      I will leave it at that so as not to offend or upset anyone.

      1. good choice in leaving it at that.

        Delta screwed up. No denying that.

        Airlines repeatedly have multiple operational issues. This was Delta’s turn and, like many other issues, it could have been avoided or at least minimized.

        Delta took care of its passengers from all reports. Other airlines have altered schedules, often on short notice, during the pandemic. They all need to get it right.

        There have been other operational issues that had far greater impact to passengers, including at Delta.

        This one will go down in the history books as a blip on the road along with this discussion.

        thanks for your comments and for CF appropriately addressing DL’s Thanksgiving issues.

      2. Thank you for stating your question/case in a polite and professional way.

        I agree that your question is a very valid one… It would be one thing to see a holiday meltdown at an airline that had had huge furloughs and layoffs, but it’s another thing to see a holiday meltdown at an airline that, by all accounts, still has plenty of labor to spare. This would support the assertion that the meltdown was driving by a lack of communication or checks in the process at DL from an operational side, and I assume that there have already been some heads rolling (or that will be rolling) soon as a result, whether those departures make the news or not.

        If, as the union states, pilots contacted scheduling offering to work to help out with the issues, but were not allowed to do so because someone at another department in DL could be contacted, that is absolutely shameful, especially on a holiday weekend… I hope that story isn’t true or is merely driven by one person in scheduling who hadn’t been properly informed, because Delta truly had no after-hours contacts for key departments during the holidays that speaks very poorly to their IRROPs/contingency planning.

        One item to watch this winter and spring will be how Delta and other airlines react to IRROPS, severe weather, and similar issues.

        I don’t know (though I’m sure others here do) if Delta temporarily withdrew its restrictions on blocked seats (those in place to help with social distancing), but that would have been another option to help take care of pax.

        1. Delta did not change its seat blocking policy.

          There will always be anecdotal reports of where processes fail. Let’s keep in mind that the reason the pilot noted in the ALPA letter could not change their schedule was because Delta respected the pilot contract which did not allow moving vacations without extra steps.

          Ultimately, the bottom line is whether customers were significantly impacted and I have not seen any reports of significant numbers of passengers being significantly inconvenienced. Instead of further gnashing of teeth, I would love to see published documentation of mass interruptions. The fact those reports haven’t surfaced pretty well says there was no more inconvenience that has been seen with schedule changes (many very close to departure in the covid era) at multiple airlines. When significant passenger disruption has happened with other events the media has covered it. Media reports have simply been that Delta cancelled up to 20% of its flights on one day and less amounts on others.

          As hard as it is for some to accept, Delta’s Thanksgiving event was bigger fodder for a few avgeeks than it was for Delta’s customers.

          and, finally, let’s remember that Delta has been trying to get a deal w/ its pilots for months that would avoid furloughs. The deal was actually approved on Thanksgiving weekend – literally hours before furloughs would have taken place.

          Did Delta and ALPA BOTH push the limits of running a good operation while pursuing their medium to long-term interests? Maybe so but I think what DAL and ALPA were able to do collaboratively alongside what it has done w/ its non-contract employees will be remembered much longer.

          Given that Delta won Business Travel Network’s number one airline for the 10th year in a row, there are a lot of people that actually spend money on tickets on Delta that best see what Delta is doing and has done for the decade plus since the Delta-Northwest merger.

  3. I want to…but I really just can’t with this. The alternative facts above speak for themselves.

    If all the other carriers were so screwed up because of their furloughs and unhappy employees, why did they ALL manage to have a smooth operation while DL had a meltdown during the worst possible time for any carrier?

    1. The real question is why would anyone think that operational meltdowns SHOULD happen at the same time at other airlines. As was noted before, NW had its operational meltdown by itself – and DTW has become one of the most reliable large operations in the world including in the winter. Why did UA cancel its entire operation during the New Year’s Day ORD snowstorm of 1981 while AA used its DC10s to blow snow off taxiways and keep operating even 25% of its flights? Why does WN consistently cancel a higher percentage of flights than other airlines in major weather events – winter and summer?
      the answer is clearly that the airline industry is still composed of individual companies that make their own decisions.
      When the industry as a whole is affected, it is by events like 9/11 and covid – and the recovery takes months, not hours as is the norm w/ “routine” operational events.

      And then remember that the whole reason DALPA wrote their letter in the first place was not because they Monday morning QB DL’s operation every time something goes wrong but because someone made a charge that DL pilots were calling in sick en masse – which has significant legal implications which DALPA rightfully has to address – esp. since it was an outside party that was making the charge.

      Delta has had large-scale operational issues that impacted far more flights but far more significantly impacted large portions of their customer base – as has every single airline that is flying as well as is no longer flying.
      Anyone that has followed the airline industry for decades knows that Delta’s Thanksgiving 2020 operational issues won’t even make the industry’s top 100 in a decade or more long look at history.
      And yet every company, including Delta, has to look at what they did wrong even in the “small” events to not repeat whatever they can control.

      1. Wow! For just a “blip” in its operation, you have now devoted 5 posts to deflection, trying to reword my question, and excuse-making. For example, you compare Delta’s Thanksgiving Day troubles to winter storms and other weather events. But all of those other events were Acts Of God, over which NO carrier has control. The Delta Thanksgiving Day “event” was completely man-made. As such, it was totally controllable. Therein lies the crucial difference. This was PREVENTABLE, unlike blizzards, ice storms and hurricanes.

        What really stands out to me about this mini-crisis is that it’s so far OPPOSITE of the way Delta normally operates. I’m sure you have the statistics handy, but I remember Delta was going MONTHS at a time without even a single canceled flight, an amazing record. Not since Bill Compton ran TWA nearly flawlessly in their final, sad years has any airline run as well as Delta. So for Delta to cancel somewhere near 300 flights in a single DAY, that is waaay beyond a “blip” relative to its normal performance. And perhaps you are quite aware of that, which begat your 5 scatter-shot responses. To close on a positive note, I do agree with you that this will be quickly forgotten….unless it happens again.

  4. Cranky

    A similar landings and take offs (with some additional humor) to what is shown in the Video of the Week can be seen in the 1990 film “Air America” with Mel Gibson and Robert Downey Jr.

    The British pilots can’t have all the “fun”! :)

  5. Despite all the hagiographies we see on here, It’s important to remember that DL is still run by actual people.

    Sometimes they take a gamble and it pays off. Sometimes they step on takes.

    I’m much more interested in what comes out of the internal post-mortem than anything else.

    1. Kevin,

      Fair point. Mistakes happen, and COVID-19 has definitely thrown a wrench into normal processes at many businesses, not just airlines.

      That said, a ball was dropped, and it’s up to Delta to ensure that they fix their processes and planning so that something similar doesn’t happen during Christmas/New Year’s or as a result of severe winter storms.

      1. Oh, I agree 100%.

        Just think a lot of the posts on (and elsewhere) are more schadenfreude than actual objective criticism(s) of DL.

          1. I think the comments here are mainly aimed at Tim. UA or AA could find a cancer cure and Tim would dismiss it. DL could run over 12 nuns in a crosswalk and Tim would dismiss it.

            1. it has nothing to do with cancer or AA or UA.

              It is about perspective and accuracy. Airlines all have operational issues. At different times.

              And the whole reason why DALPA wrote a letter in the first place was to counter the notion that there was a massive and concerted effort to call in sick.

              For whatever reason, they, like DAL mgmt, noted that there is higher than normal rate of covid impact on pilots.

              Add in the massive movement of pilots between aircraft and that solutions which the company sought from the union to mitigate coverage and training issues was just approved during the Thanksgiving weekend and it isn’t a surprise that all of the pieces didn’t come together at the right time.

              This one had minimal impact on passengers and will be forgotten in even a short history of the industry. Even with reduced schedules, I can assure you there will be IROPS this winter that will have a far larger impact.

              Given that demand fell apart across the board as the CDC warned people to stay home and they are doing it again for Christmas, demand – and the higher need for pilots – likely won’t be an issue until Spring Break 2021 or later.

      2. Remember the meltdown JetBlue had a few years back when NYC had a blizzard & their reputation suffered as a result. Also I just remembered when a blizzard hit Detroit & Northwest had the mother of all meltdowns when planes sat on the ramp for over ten hours & passengers were frantic. Some attempted to escape & were warned they would be arrested if they exited the jet via the emergency shoots. I believe that happened in 2005?

        1. The NW one was in ’99. I worked there, then. It took a long time to untangle…

          In the fallout afterward, a lot of backstops were put in place so that would never happen again.

          1. Thanks Kevin for the correction on the date. Something about that event was seared into my mind & I never forgot about it. Since you worked there, can you explain what actually happened & what changes were made beyond what was noted in press accounts?


            1. So, it was a monster storm (even by upper Midwest standards). People in Dispatch and Meteorology (NW had it’s own internal dept.) wanted to shut DTW operations down. Our SOC kept sending planes instead.

              At the same time, DTW-based crews (Pilots, F/As, Ramp & Gate) couldn’t get to the airport , so you had planes that should’ve been leaving clogging up gates that the arrivals could’ve used. On top of all that, I believe a few planes skidded off the taxiways (I’m going off of memory here, so I’m not 100% of how many).

              This wound up being a catalyst for the Passenger Bill of Rights. Internally, it meant more cooperation between departments/info sharing. On the Airport side, we had to let people off planes after a certain point, and keep them updated as to what was going on (that’s a minimum expectation today, of course). That also meant holding planes at their origin, or routing people through other hubs, when necessary.
              We also wound up with a much clearer emergency plan, and each station had to have a playbook on how to handle situations locally.

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