A Closer Look at Delta’s Thanksgiving Meltdown

Delta, Operations

I realize Thanksgiving is a distant memory at this point, but I keep finding myself thinking back toward that weekend and Delta’s huge number of cancellations that plagued holiday travelers. With capacity down so much, operational disruption hasn’t been much of a thing this year, and that’s one reason why this was so notable. On top of that, it’s rare that Delta ever blows it operationally, but it happened, and I wanted to see what more information I might be able to glean by looking through the data. Thanks to masFlight, I was able to dig in.

Let’s start with a look at the big picture. Below you’ll see a chart showing number of canceled flights by day around the Thanksgiving holiday. (Thanksgiving was November 26.) Now, I realize this might be subtle, so you may have to look really closely to see where the problem was.

Delta and Regional Partner Canceled Flights by Day

Data via masFlight

Or maybe you won’t have to squint at all. That is one big spike in cancellations with the worst coming on Thanksgiving Day itself.

Keep in mind that this chart includes regional partners. Don’t see them? No kidding. That’s because there wasn’t a day with more than 1 canceled flight on any of these airlines, so they don’t show up on the graph at this scale. Endeavor canceled none during the entire period. Republic had one on the 1st of December, and that’s it. SkyWest was the regional problem child with five scattered on five different days. To be clear, that is sarcasm. This was not a regional problem. This was a Delta problem.

My next thought was to look at the fleets. Delta keeps saying that it was a variety of factors that led to the problems, but ultimately it looks like an issue of being short of crews. Was this something that impacted all crews? Or just some?

I grouped the fleets together so we could evaluate where the problem children were. Sure enough…

Delta Completion Factor by Fleet Type

Data via masFlight

It becomes abundantly clear that the real problem here was with the narrowbodies. More specifically, it was the A319/320/321 and 737-800/900 crews. The A220s and 717s held up well, as did the 757s which are grouped with the 767s for pilot purposes. This makes sense. There have been so few widebody flights that I imagine there are plenty of pilots to operate them. But for narrowbodies, those widebody pilots are being retrained to fly narrowbodies(Update: I’m told this isn’t the case and the widebody pilots are mostly still on their aircraft, waiting for airplanes to fly) and there are a whole lot of training events that need to happen. It looks like Delta just didn’t have the crews it needed to fly those narrowbodies.

But was Delta able to keep this isolated to a part of its network? No. No it wasn’t. Though do keep in mind that unlike the ones above, the scale on this map starts at 65% to make it easier to see. In other words, it’s not as dire as it might look at first glance.

Delta Departing Completion Factor by Hub

Sure, some hubs held up better than others. Minneapolis, for example, was able to keep its completion factor above 90 percent on Thanksgiving. But that was still 93.1 percent; not a very good number. LA was at the other end of the spectrum with only 83.2 percent of departing flights completed.

I can poke around the data all I want, but it won’t tell me WHY all of these cancellations occurred. I suppose it doesn’t matter. As long as Delta knows what happened and can prevent it from happening again, that’s what we should care about. Sure, Delta was able to smooth things over with a Skymiles apology this time, but that doesn’t salvage the holiday for those who may have missed it, and it won’t help if it happens again. The burden is on you, Delta, to make sure this coming holiday season goes smoothly.

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63 comments on “A Closer Look at Delta’s Thanksgiving Meltdown

  1. and yet in all of that data analysis you can’t seem to find any evidence of widescale passenger inconvenience, now can you?

    Airlines don’t exist to move planes.

    They exist to move passengers.

    If they succeeded at doing that even with their hiccups, then they succeeded at what they are intended to do and did it far better than a zillion other operational issues that don’t draw your attention.

    1. That many flights cancelled? Of course there was widespread passenger inconvenience. Lol

      It easily would’ve been a bigger inconvenience story but the media was too focused on discouraging travel to do the usually focus stories they’d do in a normal holiday travel. Delta got lucky. They still massively inconvenienced their passengers. The idea that they magically reaccomodated that many people with zero impact is a bit silly. Unless their load factors were absolutely in the toilet which I don’t even think you’d suggest.
      Calm down, Tim, and just move on from a bad delta story for once.

      1. If you actually looked at the schedule for flights that operated, DL managed to operate flights within a couple of flights from within they were scheduled – and they still had seats to sell in many of the markets.
        The cancellations were most heavily concentrated in Atlanta – something CF couldn’t manage to find – where DL STILL operates the world’s largest hub and where it serves many markets with multiple frequencies per day.

        If there were widespread passenger disruption, it would have been reported. And, no, the media wasn’t so consumed with telling people to stay home that they couldn’t cover widespread disruption.

        Most airline IROP events have their data source in social media today – such as we saw with the person walking on the wing of an AS 737 that was headed for the runway.

        There simply wasn’t any widescale disruption and the fact that not one person including CF has managed to post anything to that effect pretty well supports that this is an avgeek focused story and nothing else.

        I can assure you there will be much worse disruption from the weather this week in the US than from Thanksgiving.

        The real question is why, in the absence of any real data of passenger inconvenience, CF and others continue to harp on DL’s Thanksgiving.

        1. I am curious why Tim Dunn is so ridiculously positive about an airline that runs a good operation but certainly is not above reproach. I saw Cranky’s post and KNEW who would be chiming in. Tim, perhaps you can start your own blog: Delta-Is-Perfect.com.

          1. No, Delta is not perfect.
            If you paid attention to the media and its coverage of operational issues, Delta’s IT shutdown several years ago was widely covered worldwide and caused ENORMOUS inconvenience to passengers.
            If you remember Atlanta’s Spring Break ice storm that caused massive cancellations, there was enormous passenger inconvenience that was well-documented in the media. There were lines of people half the length of ATL’s concourses looking for help.

            EVERY airline has had massive cancellations that gained media attention because of the impact to passengers.

            As CF has previously documented, Delta added a bunch of capacity BEFORE Thanksgiving. The CDC and others urged Americans not to travel. Multiple airlines said bookings were soft. Delta cancelled about 20% of its system flights on just one day – less on other days – and people can’t grasp that Delta still had more than enough capacity to accommodate the passengers on flights it cancelled.

            I keep responding because I am holding those that want to keep talking about it to a rational standard of passenger impact.

            That hasn’t happened because there was minimal impact on passengers compared to what is often the norm with airline IROPS.

            And let’s not forget that Delta’s cash burn projections for the 4th quarter are about half of AA and UA’s. IROPS are costly. If this was a big deal, it would have cost Delta.

            the fact that they have released no financial update on the cost of the IROPS plus a lack of widescale passenger inconvenience shows this really wasn’t a big deal – certainly less significant than B6′ invasion of UA’s EWR hub and WN’s growth of service in MIA.

            repeated focus on DL’s Thanksgiving is called “can’t see the forest for the trees” or “majoring on the minors.”

            1. My apology, in advance, to anyone who may be offended.

              Mr. Dunn, this blog belongs to Mr. Snyder, not to you. HE, and only he, will be the arbiter of its content.

              I, for one, am insulted that you would write that Mr. Snyder “can’t see the forest for the trees.” It’s HIS blog. He can “see” anything he wants! And as far as your insult that he’s “majoring in the minors” is concerned, the Thanksgiving problems Delta encountered were created BY Delta, which is newsworthy in both that it was completely self-inflicted (not a weather event) and so opposite of Delta’s historical performance data.

              You have a history of combativeness on this blog, in both sarcastic tone and (at times) questionable content. Several contributors here have encouraged you to start your own blog and abandon this one. Perhaps this would be an appropriate time to do so.

        2. I suppose it depends on how you measure disruption. If you, Tim Dunn, happened to be one of the thousands delayed, you might feel as though it was more of an inconvenience than you let on. Pax can certainly understand and move on from a WX or MX delays, as they can wrap their head around things like that occurring. In this case, the ball was just completely dropped. It’s fine to say that ultimately no one was overly bothered. But you do no know that. You are going by the lack of attention it garnered on social media. Maybe that is all that counts, but I can guarantee you those that didn’t get to their destination any where near on time, would feel differently.

          So, Tim, what is an acceptable level of inconvenience for you, the day before (or on) a holiday. 2 hours? 4 hours? Overnight delay? You are a smart enough (I think) person to not die on this hill defending DL. They run a great operation. No one is arguing that, but to continue to defend what occurred with what you are calling “proof” discredits many of the other opinions you share.

          1. Context is key.
            Airline passengers have some “normal” degree of expectation of delay.
            Anyone that drives in a big city or for extended distances on an interstate has some “normal” expectation of delay.

            I’m not saying that some people didn’t lose a couple of hours.

            Some actually were able to switch their flights to more favorable schedules; there aren’t very many anecdotal reports of passenger impact from DL’s Thanksgiving event but at least one person said they were happier with their adjusted schedule than what they originally booked.

            Delta also gave away Skymiles – one person said they were given more Skymiles than they spent to redeem to travel – which was already a very low number.

            Any halfway legitimate analysis of airline IROPS MUST include some level of passenger impact.

            This analysis has NONE.

            It is the fixation of a few avgeeks that is disconnected from reality.

            There are more tweets and news stories going on now about UA’s diversion into MSY of a flight on which someone covid positive died in-flight than there were from DL’s Thanksgiving in large part because UA continued the flight on the same aircraft.

            No, I am not going to die for DL. I will stand up for common sense and rationality.

            1. Tim Dunn – No, I am not going to die for DL. I will stand up for common sense and rationality.

              Me – LOL. I really needed a good laugh this morning.

            2. Tim – Please, please, please stop tying yourself in knots. By your rationale, Delta could have a plane crash on landing and it wouldn’t be newsworthy if everyone lived and got to their destination on time. You have chosen to focus on passenger inconvenience as the only thing that matters, because that’s the only way you can support your narrative. We had an airline that prides itself of operational integrity, and it failed in a big way over Thanksgiving. That makes it interesting to look at in greater detail. Something tells me if I had written this about American failing over the holiday, you’d jump right onboard. This is newsworthy, whether you like it or not.

              You seem to suggest that getting to the destination within a couple hours is good enough. If that’s the case, can we expect you to slam Delta’s strategy of excellent operational performance? That is a costly strategy, and if people really don’t care if they arrive within a couple hours, then it’s wasted money.

            3. Brett,
              I have written as much as I have on this topic because
              1. How many topics have you revisited in the same 15 day period? I’ll wait for an answer but I can assure you it has happened very rarely. More specific to the discussion, when have you EVER dealt with IROPS events twice within the same 2 week period. I can tell you without looking. NEVER.
              2. You have yet to come to any real conclusions other than what Delta and ALPA said. Even if they really short-staffed because of Thanksgiving, they managed to avoid furloughs something AA has not done and something WN is threatening its employees with doing. UA pilots were forced into a 3 tier pay system.
              3. You have failed to provide any evidence of widespread passenger inconvenience.

              Your explanation below is about as accurate as anyone outside of Delta is likely going to get – and it is likely accurate. I’m not sure why continuing to beat the drum you think you are going to shed anymore light on the subject.

              What WAS your point in revisiting this story? If throwing rocks at someone because they pride themselves in their operational integrity is the best you can do, then you clearly are not driven by data but by a willingness to engage in idle and non-productive chit-chat.

              You have the ability to offer a real service to the aviation community.

              Focusing on minutiae while ignoring far more strategic stories including significant shifts in capacity that aren’t happening just with covid will add value, not noise to the internet. When you can find that data and want to sell it to others (as if they haven’t figured it out) but don’t want to discuss it with your blog followers, I again have to ask what your purpose for this blog is. given that other bloggers publish dozens of articles per week, they have room for chit chat. I would THINK that with only a couple articles per week you would focus on what matters.

              but, of course it is your blog.

            4. Tim – I would suggest you take a deep breath before responding again, because you’re treading on thin ice. The attacks on others are not ok, and while I normally simply ignore attacks on myself, these strangely angry assertions that I’m somehow targeting Delta on a witch hunt requires a response.

              To clear up some of your misguided suggestions here and on other comments you’ve left…

              1) This is the first time I’ve written about this. I linked to a Delta pilot letter on the “3 Links” post, but that is not me “writing” anything of substance. Once I had access to the masFlight data, I went to look at it and decided to write it up.

              2) Last time I checked, I in no way have to have a “real” conclusion to write a post. There are plenty of things I write about that I find interesting even if they are more open-ended and lack a firm conclusion.
              The idea that there has to be a fixed conclusion is an arbitrary rule you’ve just made up. In the same vein, you’ve invented a rule that it’s not newsworthy unless there is a proof of a passenger inconvenience. While in this case there was undoubtedly passenger inconvenience since hundreds of flights were canceled, it doesn’t matter. That is not a requirement for writing a story.

              3) You suggest, in all caps no less, that I don’t cover IROPS. That’s laughable. Look at every time I’ve cited masFlight and you’ll see plenty of stories on IROPS. (https://crankyflier.com/?s=masflight) I simply haven’t covered it recently because there hasn’t been much of an operation to talk about during COVID times.

              4) The idea that I am “crucifying” a company is also laughable. Delta f***ed up. And picking apart what happened to see where the impact was and how it happened is interesting. This isn’t about crucifying anyone. You just don’t like when someone criticizes Delta, but if Delta is going to stand from the rooftops and shout about how great its operation is, then it makes for a more interesting story when something goes wrong.

              5) You seem to have decided how I should write my blog. I should clearly avoid “idle and non-productive” chit chat and not focus on “minutiae.”
              Your scolding is not well-received. It’s a good thing I don’t let you or anyone else dictate what I write. I have always and will always write in this blog about what I find interesting. If you don’t like it, I would strongly suggest and actively encourage you to take your comments elsewhere.

              Again, tread carefully going forward or the possibility of being blocked will be considered.

            5. Brett,
              if you feel that blocking someone that raises legitimate questions about why you post what you post deserves blocking, then far be it from me to interfere.

              With ALL due respect (and yes that is all caps), I did not see a single article in the link that you provided that dealt w/ a specific IROP situation for a single airline that wasn’t labor related that was repeated twice in any form. on Dec 23, 2016, you noted Frontier’s operational meltdown in your 3 articles and that was it.

              Of course you are free to write about whatever you want but you still haven’t answered the question about what additional value was added to this discussion by covering it again – nearly 3 weeks after it took place. After the “picking apart” you did, what solid conclusions have you passed along to your readers that we didn’t know weeks ago?

              I’m sorry if you or anyone else find what I am saying as scolding.

              But, when you tell us how busy you are with other things, including producing CNW which is a high quality piece of work, I don’t think it is too much to ask you what value you were able to create in a discussion which has been discussed three times on your site – whether you wrote an article on it or not before today.

              As I have said before, I do respect what you have built and the platform that you have created that allows the interchange of ideas. You do have a high tolerance for dissent.

              The other option, of course, is to realize that maybe you really didn’t accomplish what you hoped – it happens to all writers at times.

              Like Delta, they brush themselves off, get up and try again the next day.

              the better part of valor is not threats but productive, honest dialogue.

              all the best, always.

              you have my email if you wish to follow up privately.

            6. Tim,
              Most people enjoyed reading this article from cranky.
              In case you haven’t noticed, you’re the only one that seems to mind it. And it’s all too obvious why you do mind it, it paints delta in a poor light. It wasn’t even a hit piece. It was just a look at what happened on a non-weather operational meltdown. Many were curious about it.
              And the ridiculous narrative you’ve created in your fantasyland, is just that, fantasy. Of course there was a passenger impact when hundreds of flights were cancelled. You literally have zero data to suggest otherwise.

              For the good of everyone. Take your toxicity and fake facts somewhere else. You’ve ruined just about every comments section for months and months on here.
              It’s sooooo maddening to watch you get on here every article and use half facts to create narratives about how delta rules and everyone else is dumb and stupid. We’re all thrilled for you that you had a semi career at delta and gave Richard Andersen your soul and objectivity. That doesn’t mean you have to demean others workplaces or favorite carriers nonstop. Take a chill pill.

              Just. Stop.

            7. As much as all of us would love for Tim to change or to stop, it is not going to happen. He is going to take over the comment section every day and continue to have periodic meltdowns/tantrums — no plea is going to change that.

              CF has the option to boot him. If CF does not do that, the rest of the commenters have to stop replying to his comments, no matter what he says.

            8. Tim,

              Reading your screeds on this blog as of late reminded me of a quote from the film “While you were Sleeping”& I’ll paraphrase it here. “Tim – they have doctors for this sort of thing.”

            9. I always enjoy reading the CF posts, but any time I see dozens and dozens of comments, I worry that the comments section has been taken over by Tim. This isn’t always the case, but it happens often, and, when it does, almost all enjoyment is gone due to the warped sense of Tim’s reality that is repeatedly forced down our throats.

          2. As soon as I saw the title & read the post, the first thought that popped into my head was… Tim Dunn isn’t going to be happy as his beloved Delta is going to be skewered. And as usual he didn’t disappoint in that regard.

            1. Cranky, thank you, I needed this side-clutching laugh today: “By your rationale, Delta could have a plane crash on landing and it wouldn’t be newsworthy if everyone lived and got to their destination on time.”

              Folks, as someone who works with toxic a$$ people, I can assure you, Mr. Dunn is one of them.

    2. When a cancelled flight does not cause me some degree of inconvenience I’ll let you know. That will be the day to check the sky as pigs will be flying!

      It doesn’t matter if the event is news worthy or not. The event happened.

    3. Previous commenters have posted information strongly suggesting that Tim Dunn writes on amateur stock-picking blogs and chooses not to disclose this on his Cranky Flier posts. To be clear, as he is not discussing airlines as investments on this blog, it isn’t probably ethically required, although it would undoubtedly be considered a best practice. Our ethics are illuminated by whether we do the right thing when it isn’t required, and having a position in Delta or other carriers would clearly cloud your judgment, even when discussing operational issues like folks do here.

      In light of this fact and posts like the above, I strongly recommend that all readers of this blog assume that Tim is talking his own book. Tim’s decisions not to disclose his conflicts and reality-defying posts like the above have shattered his credibility.

      For months I have read his posts assuming that he is heavily biased but that there might be an element of useful truth buried in them. Tim’s belief that Delta can cancel 300 flights on a holiday and not necessarily cause widespread customer inconvenience is the final straw for me — reading Tim’s posts simply is not a good use of my time. We all know that when we have flights cancelled, the odds skew strongly that it will create inconvenience for us. All I have to do is count the number of nights I have spent at airport hotels after missing my connection to the last flight of the day. At the same time, I can count on one hand the number of times cancellations have worked in my favor.

      Tim — I strongly belief that our personal credibility is one of our most important assets. You have none left with me.

      1. Tell me how many stock picker blogs allow someone to post anonymously and say anything about the value of airlines. By the standard to which you want to hold me – and I DO use my own name – there are plenty of people that would not be qualified ON THIS SITE to offer any perspective on how any publicly traded companies are operated because it does affect valuation of those companies. And not once have I provided any guidance to buy or sell any stock on this site.

        The question you and everyone else should be asking is why CF is talking about Delta’s Thanksgiving operations when, even as you note, you can’t prove that there was widespread inconvenience – just increased odds.

        Not one person has YET to post any article or picture of widespread lines of people waiting or sleeping in airports. That has happened before and yet no one can seem to find any evidence of widespread inconvenience to passengers – so they just guess there must have been.

        Meanwhile, CF has produced some absolutely brilliant work over the past couple weeks showing enormous strategic changes that is showing major strategic changes that are taking place in the airline industry = but those don’t get covered.

        Cranky Network Weekly over the past 2 weeks has highlighted changing market capacity not just during covid but over the past 10 years in New York City, Los Angeles, S. Florida/MFL/PBI, and Denver and yet those weren’t discussed.

        How many people know that DL is the largest airline not just from LAX but from LA Basin airports based on capacity right now? How many people know that the number 2 and 3 largest carriers in S. Florida are Spirit and Delta – and both have increased their share – while American and United in those markets were losing share even before covid and that has accelerated? How many people have seen UA’s falling capacity share in multiple of its major hubs even as UA already has some of the most competitive hubs in the airline industry?

        Why are people fixated on what happened at Delta esp. on Thanksgiving Day which is a very low travel day normally and was even lower this year when no data has been brought forward to the real impact or what flights were actually operated?

        It’s about context and perspective and things that matter in the aviation world rather than repeating a story that is no longer an issue. Other topics including the KE-OZ merger followed by a suggestion that JL and NH should do the same provide far more opportunity to deep dive and come up with a real story – and just might point to a metanarrative that some carriers will lose in Asia/Pacific consolidation and the expansion of some carriers in the US at the expense of others.

        Or there are numerous stories about bad passengers and bad airlines including UA’s tossing a family off of a flight because their 2 year old wouldn’t keep a mask on. Or the AS flight w/ a person that climbed onto the wing.

        I post on social media based on the value of stories that are discussed and not based on what someone else thinks about my credibility; your statement about “no credibility” would leave you, statistically, at significant differences to the majority.

        Social media is full of insignificant trivia. Of all the stories to write about, repeating for the nth time something that even CF has failed to come to any real conclusion about beyond what DALPA and Delta said in their comments on the matter seem what is an enormous waste of time.

        1. I don’t even know how you can manage to write such drivel about delta’s capacity gains anywhere given they’re only selling 66% of their seats. If anything, they’re the largest carrier shrinking. Even if you were right about flown capacity, not sold, which I honestly doubt, since it has your usual dogma flair without backing, you’d need to discount any numbers by a third. Delta’s capacity is massively reduced due to their seat policy.

          You really are a sad person. Does it really turn you into this much of a mental tailspin when delta has a bad article written about it? You always do these stupid random “aa and ua are awful in this random metric”. Does it really help you sleep that much better at night?

          1. The data ITSELF should speak. The fact that despite repeated discussions of this topic have yet to produce any widespread inconvenience is precisely the reason that those that continue to cling to the topic don’t get the point.

            My objections to the article have nothing to do with Delta.

            Again, I asked CF when he has ever dealt with a subject twice in the same 15 day period. I also asked when he has ever revisited an IROP twice. His article database is searchable so y’all can jump in and prove me wrong on those issues.

            CF DOESN’T cover IROPS. He doesn’t even cover most operational issues. Yet for some reason, he and a bunch of other people are fixated on an event that produced no more of an inconvenience than what most frequent travelers experience over a lengthy period of flying. Feel free to provide a link but where was CF’s Monday morning quarterbacking – TWICE – after any number of spectacular operational meltdowns that have occurred at any number of airlines just over the past five years. I’ll wait for ANYONE to post links.

            No one excused Delta or said that these things don’t matter.

            The whole point is perspective and the desire to crucify a company because they tout operational integrity and then fail on a very reduced volume of passengers.

            Tell me how many airlines advertise that they run 89234y operations so don’t have any expectations of getting there on-time. Absolutely none. To somehow think that DL’s operational problems are unique and require unique attention IS the issue.

            And not a single airline has reported consistent load factors over 65% during this pandemic.

            Capacity does matter and it says a whole lot about the future strategic direction of the industry.

            CF wants to sell that data and reports but he wants to leave this blog to discuss things that are only an issue in the minds of a few avgeeks. Certainly not to potential passengers, certainly not to investors, and not to even the executives of other airlines that are trying to figure out how to survive this crisis.

            But if it gives some of something to do to throw rocks at others for non-issues, then certainly don’t stop me.

            But, please, please, be sure and discuss the transportation meltdown that is coming this week to the NE and the numerous versions of it that will happen this winter – or prove my point.

            1. Tim–

              1. Based on the lack of “DELTA IS THE WORST EVER” comments on the airline’s Facebook page on the posts from the day before and the day after Thanksgiving, you are probably right on the inconvenience issue. I found only one mention of a canceled flight. So, I think you raise a perfectly valid point that was interesting the first time it was mentioned… and maybe the second time. Not so interesting once you pushed the beaten dead horse over a cliff, cut out its heart, and set the poor beast on fire.

              2. The inconvenience issue doesn’t mean the Thanksgiving issue is not an interesting topic. For me, this is the most interesting CF post in weeks (perhaps because I’m a blindly-loyal Diamond Medallion who almost exclusively flies Delta and its partners)

              3. I believe the blog is largely read by avgeeks, so an article that is of interest only to avgeeks is perfectly fair game.

              4. It may be time for you to move on and start your own blog. Your rantings today make you sound like a bit of a crackpot (by the way, Crackpot Flier has a nice ring to it), and I think your attacks on Brett have indeed destroyed your credibility on this site — at least they have with me, an always reader/rare commenter who usually feels a little bad for you when the anti-Tim crowd gets going.

            2. Dave,
              One quarter of a million people read my articles this year. I don’t lack for respect whether you or anyone else see it or not. I have no idea how many people have read my comments on multiple chat forums but it is probably at least that much or more. :-)

              Gary Leff was called the CNN of travel blogs today. If that isn’t a low blow, I’m not sure what you would call it.

              CF does seem to recognize – even if some here don’t – that bloggers face criticism of their work.

              There is no need to defend him. He can pull the plug if he wants.

              He might also recognize, which I hope that some readers here would, that surrounding yourself w/ yes people is the worst thing you can do in life.

        2. I pay little attention to anonymous stock picker blogs and my advice is that they should be used only for getting a sense of sentiment and broad themes. They are free advice, you get what you pay for, and to the extent that they are posted by folks talking their own books, there is very possibly negative value in them. I did not post this morning to debate you; I wrote to provide my advice to other readers as a credentialed analyst that they should include your posts in that same bucket. Readers should know that there is significant danger that you are talking your own book and your view is clouded. That’s all. I have no interest in debating market share in South Florida or Asian consolidation, especially on a post about Delta’s operational meltdown. Those topics are tangents that are not germane to this conversation. You are biased and you are letting that bias create a sense in your mind that it is unclear whether 300 cancelled flights created passenger inconvenience on a date when many of the people who are flying want to make it to their destination in time for dinner, are flying with large families, and don’t want to spend a single second more than necessary in the airport due to extreme health risks. It’s ludicrous. If your flight was cancelled, you probably either had to leave earlier than you planned, arrive later than you planned, connect when you hadn’t planned to connect, or simply cancel your trip. Yes, maybe you’re the lucky person who booked the cheapest flight with a connection through Rapid City and you got rebooked on a direct flight. My personal experience is that is an extremely rare exception, not the rule.

          1. @Jim. Amazingly well said. I can already hear the rebuttal. “But AA is shrinking in X, Y, or Z.” “Focus on the random numbers I tell you to focus on, not on what actually occurred.” “DL made an operational decision to actually save money, so this once again proves how they are the smartest in the biz.”

  2. I have curious about a breakdown of what happened after reading about the cancellations over Thanksgiving (as you say, rare for Delta). This was informative. Thanks!

    Do you have, based on your days working for airlines, any sense of HOW this happened? Was it poor internal communication between flight scheduling and crew teams? Was it that pilot re-training was slower than they thought when the schedule got released? Just curious.

    1. BRMM – Delta hasn’t been very forthcoming on giving concise answers on this. But best I understand is that it was mostly a pilot staffing issue that came about for several reasons. Delta ramped up flying closer to travel without having enough resources. There were also issues with COVID being floated around. And then there are training issues. Either way, Delta tried to bite off more than it could chew this time.

      1. Actually, I think you data is quite revealing, Mr. Snyder. If the problem was Covid-related, we would expect to see similar percentages of completion factor across ALL fleet types. Instead, we see particular weakness across the medium narrow-body fleet, specifically the 737 family and the A-320 family. Given Delta’s many fleet types (pre-Covid), some of which are permanently parked, it’s not a stretch by any means to conclude that the cascading pilot aircraft displacements has created a bottle-neck in those fleet types. We already know A-220s are parked for this reason. Perhaps pilot manning for the 737/320 was sufficient until all the last-minute schedule additions(??). But there is certainly something going on in those fleet types. Were they short of First Officers from wide-body First Officers downgrading but not yet trained? Or were they short of Captains for the same reason? Or both?

        1. SawTheMasters – The COVID issue I was told about is something along the lines of pilots being able to call in sick with COVID more easily without proof. I haven’t been able to verify that independently, so I didn’t want to throw it out there. But if that is true, it’s entirely possible that a group of people on certain fleets types might get together and decide to take action. This is all unfair speculation, but it could have all snowballed, in theory. It just sounds like there’s a lot that went into this.

          1. DALPA actually said it was false, but again, without data, you are speculating and continue to push a narrative that doesn’t answer the basic questions from and over the past 8 hours.
            1. When did CF start focusing on operational issues and more specifically IROPS?
            2. When has any topic been discussed twice in two weeks, let alone an IROP?
            3. Where is the evidence of passenger inconvenience – any more than happens any time any flight doesn’t operate on-time?
            4. What conclusions have you come to – or for that matter anyone else has contributed – that wasn’t known the last time this topic was discussed?
            5. Can we expect that this blog will regularly feature Monday Morning QBing of operational issues, or was there something about Delta’s Thanksgiving that has you fixated?

            and, most importantly, why, when you clearly are capable of producing high quality analytical work, why aren’t some of the major metanarratives that could easily be parsed out of your research discussed here?

            I love to give you credit for the work you do. I’ve mentioned findings from your CNW report in multiple places on the web since that report started; I’ve used material from this site – when it is worthwhile – in my own writing. I doubt anyone else that has commented here has quoted and cited your work anywhere near as many times as I have.

            But I also have to challenge you to produce higher quality work and discussions if that is what you want to hold people to on your site.

            Sometimes you have to admit that an article idea just doesn’t work out. This should probably have gone into that category.

            1. Tim – I don’t think you understand how this works. I write whatever I want, and people either like it or they don’t. That’s not really my concern. It is not your job to “challenge” me to produce higher quality work. I’m not sure why you think it is.

              Your efforts to shift the narrative to somehow suggest this story was unwarranted frankly falls on deaf ears. The only thing you’ve succeeded at doing is hijacking the conversation away from actual substantive discussion about what Delta did wrong. Unfortunately, this seems to happen quite a bit in the comment section as of late, and it bothers me. I remain very hesitant to block anyone, because that is not how I like to run this site.
              But there’s no question that the substance has degraded, and that does concern me.

              So, for now, I will simply ask you to refrain from commenting unless you can positively contribute to the discussion. I hope that with some restraint, the comments can get back to being productive and informative.
              If they do not, I will consider further action.

            2. Brett,
              I will first apologize to you for what took place yesterday. It should not have happened.
              You are a good and gracious person and invite people to a conversation that we all want to participate in or we would not show up.
              I totally agree with you that we can hold ourselves to a standard of “did what I just write or am about to write contribute anything positive to the discussion.”
              I think we can agree that there are several things that don’t contribute anything positively.
              – repeating the same thing over and over
              – personally attacking others
              – writing about topics in our replies that aren’t part of the original article
              – inappropriate hyperbole, if I dare say, including jokes about airplane crashes
              – checking to make sure there facts or questions that have not been addressed and not basing what I say on hearsay and rumor.
              I’m sure you could add to the list

              I welcome others to hold me accountable to the standard of “is something positive being said” and would suggest that be a standard we all accept in order to create a positive commenting environment.

              Yes, it is your blog and you should write what you want. No one is going to like everything one writes and not everyone will agree w/ anything. I don’t think it is too much to ask that the same standard about adding something positive or new be a goal for articles just as with comments.

              I am glad that there are people that want to see the work you do outside of this blog. I don’t know if you are reaching your audience goals w/ CNW but you and Courtney are producing some great work.

              Let’s see what might be addressed tomorrow in yet another round of anticipated news that could have a significant impact on the industry. If it is industry impacting, I hope you cover it

              best, always

            3. How does Tim manage to include a passive aggressive insult against CF (in his list of what contributes to positive discussion) while also apologizing to him?

            4. My god, Tim Dunn is a sad human being. Must be tiring carrying around that much self-righteousness.

  3. If you look at the daily cancellation graph, it sure looks like Delta gave its customers the one-fingered salute on the 26th!!!

  4. I read a DL post that COVID cases along with contract tracing quarantining threw a big wrench into crew planning that they were not able to recover from? Having seen the impact on athletics this fall, that can definitely make some sense. But I wonder if this wasn’t just some opportunities to cancel wide open flights and consolidate inventory as well.

    There might not be huge impacts and TimDunn tries to suggest but I know when I flew on holidays to be with family in the past, I usually planned on being there within a couple hours of the event. Having to take a later flight would completely eat into the gathering. Enough to make the evening news? I doubt it.

  5. Gee – I thought Delta was perfect! LOL (I’m trying to be facetious, not sarcastic) Heck, we all have bad days.

  6. “Either way, Delta tried to bite off more than it could chew this time.”

    Exactly. And as I noted in an earlier thread, DL really is run by actually human beings. Sometimes they make decisions that backfire.

    Holiday or not, only the most jaded LGA regular has an “expectation” of delay or cancellation- our entire business model is built on getting people where they want to go when they want to be there. Safely, reliably, and on-time ( & with their bags).

    No, this was nowhere near the level of an IT outage. But in an age where every pax matters, this not a good look.

    That said, over the last few years DL has taken continuous improvement seriously-from the system level down to the most granular. I suspect this event will be no different.

    1. you’re right this isn’t remotely as spectacular of a spectacle as ATL somehow failing every single main and backup power source to be completely out for hours at a time (when Atlanta metro wasn’t collapsing along with it)

      or DL’s own over-concentration risk of putting all its investments in essentially the same basket – tons of airline equity holdings (and a refinery), a strategy that has

      – backfired on the old Swissair before,
      – backfired on Etihad before,
      – and recently, also backfired on Delta

      One can argue how every situation is unique and shouldn’t bother with learning from history.

      1. Henry–

        I’m not arguing that one shouldn’t learn from history; in fact, I’m saying the /exact/ opposite. IMO one of the best culture shifts at DL prior to COVID was moving from a position of hubris operationally to one of constantly looking to get 1% better each day.

        Alliance strategies are a topic for another day.

        BTW, it’s early where I’m at. If your intended point flew over my head, I apologize.

  7. Anybody who can’t admit that 700 cancelled flights over the course of 4 days, half of which occurred on an actual holiday, is obviously “evidence of widescale passenger inconvenience” has such a tenuous grasp of reality that I can safely assume that none of his other statements are worth reading.

    If others here share this assumption, think of all the hours that can now be applied to other more worthwhile pursuits!

  8. If I understand the Delta pilot displacement correctly (and I may well not) they did a massive displacement bid that resulted in 1900 pilots without an assigned aircraft. Those 1900 would have been almost exclusively the most junior narrowbody FOs. Whereas most pilots would stay in their current positions until assigned training in a new plane, the 1900 were immediately removed from flying status so Delta could benefit from the payroll savings ASAP. That left their former fleets more short-staffed than other fleets. I’d also guess that the 717 and A220 are either not as junior as the 737 and A320 (domicile and fancy new beat pay?) or their schedules weren’t flexed up as much, or both.

    One of the great advantages of partial paid leave that other airlines have offered is that it spreads the staff reductions around to every fleet and seat and base, rather than concentrating them in just a junior few. That greatly minimizes retraining, while making it easier to selectively restart certain fleets. Pilots not flying can manage two years off before needing a long-course training program. I know at least one airline that is putting people through recurrent training just before they go on leave, and has the right to put them through it again just before their two year leave expires, just for that purpose.

      1. I confirmed with my friends there and they did offer a couple varieties of paid leave, though they were cheaper in their offerings than competitors (and narrowbody pilots generally don’t have much access to them). There was a lot of gamesmanship and politics in the timing of how the displacement bid, leave LOA, and furlough mitigation came to be. My outline above is, I think, largely correct, but the nuance in how it came to be is far more than I’ll ever know. I think the displacement bid came first, leaving 1900 pilots unassigned. Then when Delta faced overwhelming displacement training costs they signed an LOA allowing paid leaves, and another to avoid furloughing the unassigned pilots. I gather that they couldn’t withdraw the displacement bid at that point, so the unassigned pilots weren’t able to be put back in their old seats and allowed to bid LOA instead. That would have cost much the same in monthly payroll (the pilots saved from furlough are paid about the same as those on paid leave) but given Delta much faster access to increased staffing levels. But however that all unfolded, the result is they’ve put themselves in a position where they don’t have access to the pilots who would otherwise be qualified with at most a simulator session, since those pilots are formally assigned to “unassigned”. Hopefully some Delta pilots can shed some light, since I’m certain I’m retelling the story poorly.

  9. Well, after reading today’s comments, I suspect Tim Dunn also believes DT is the greatest president ever and won the 2020 election by a landslide. But please don’t tell him he’s wrong. Please.

  10. More of Tim Dunn’s blatherings….. He really needs to start his own blog that everyone can ignore. Its painful to have to read what this troll has to write over and over. Just like all the garbage he posted at airliners.net before he mercifully got the boot. Guess what? Delta messed up, they are not the infallible be-all and end-all of airline perfection. As was clearly shown by Cranky.

  11. Dear Cranky, I know that you are more than capable of defending yourself but I just want to send a bit of moral support from a long term UK based follower of YOUR blog. I enjoy reading your blog because it is informative and IMHO very balanced. Please carry on doing what you do!

  12. This is definitely an oddity for Delta and the examination of it is warranted. If they found themselves in such a bind, why didn’t they see it coming? It is strange. Seeing some of the comments and the Pilot issues, it still is odd. I perceive Delta as quite a well run airline and I also live in a fortress hub market for Delta, so they are far more top of mind and convenient for me. This was quite odd but it is very interesting to read about.

  13. Brett – just want to add my voice to the consensus (minus one) that we love your blog, appreciate the research that goes into your posts, and generally find the posts to be interesting and topical. You do good work and the added research you have been able to do this year makes this an even more essential source of information.

    You certainly don’t need to hear this from us, but it’s your site and you and your business plan get to decide what you write about. Well done. There isn’t a shred of doubt in my mind that having 300 flight cancellations on Thanksgiving is newsworthy and you were one of the few blogs that went beyond simply reporting the fact of the cancellations and speculating on the causes. You found data that isn’t broadly available anywhere else. That’s a tremendous value to the industry and avgeeks.

    One idea I wanted to share — for your new premium service, have you given any thought to posting your research to the broader community a certain number of weeks or months after you have shared it with your subscribers? Presumably after a few weeks there would be greatly diminished value to the investors who are paying for the research, but there would still be interest among the avgeeks who are simply curious.

    1. Thanks Jim and everyone else who has chimed in. I really just want to keep this a good place for people to participate in the comments section, and that’s harder than just writing the content!

      As for your idea, Jim, we have thought about that. I think it’s likely that we will do something like that once we’ve stabilized the product.
      There is a lot in there that would be of interest to people, but it loses its urgency pretty quickly. So, we’ll work on it.

  14. I know the overwhelming majority have spoken, but I’d like to add my two cents supporting your work. I always look forward to your posts and insight. Yes, one commenter has degraded the quality of the comments section, making it hard for good discussion to take place, but the quality of your work is top-notch and I find it so insulting to see someone take shots at your hard work (I can’t even imagine how much goes into your research and work to keep this running) just because their biases are so extreme and borderline irrational.

    A hearty thank you from Colorado!

  15. I come to this blog for primarily two reasons, Cranky and Tim Dunn. While I don’t agree with everything they write, I find both to be informative, factual contributors.

    As regards this article, I agree with Tim on two key points:

    1. There was no social media meltdown – as much as one might disagree, this is where calamity finds its way through customer feedback these days.

    2. The article didn’t really give a conclusion – I was impressed with the data points, then was left wondering where the rest of the article was.

    This is my take on what happened. As Cranky and the data showed, the narrow-body fleet was where the issue occurred. There is a strong possibility that these aircraft are used on high frequency routes, and coupled with airport show-up profiles for infrequent travellers (that show them turning up earlier) meant that re-accomodation was possible. The two most troublesome days (for aircraft types) were the 26th/27th, which according to TSA data are the two least busy days over the holiday. This meant disruption to passengers was kept to a minimum.

    1. omg you should totally do stand up comedy. He’s the one still blindly calling others “heavily indebted” despite the fact that DL took one huge amounts of long-term debt lately, surpassing some of its rivals and matching the worst tier ones.

      It’s all in their quarterly earnings press release, but then again why would he be bogged down by any slight bit of bad news about DL.

      Or you, for that matter. it’s even more hilarious to suggest that in the depth of a pandemic the scheduling is so tight and planes filled totally filled to the brim that operational meltdowns are to be expected, and somehow NOT melting down deserves a gold star ?

  16. I almost hate to comment on this but if a quarter million people read Tim Dunn’s 10 articles on Seeking Alpha this year, 9 of which are behind a paywall, I have two dozen LHR slots to sell to B6… cheaply!

    Speaking of which, this seems particularly relevant:

    Can anyone write for Seeking Alpha?

    Over 16,000 people have contributed articles over the years. These include individual and institutional investors, fund managers, college students, retirees, analysts and basically anyone who wants to share investment insights and ideas with our community. You too can become a contributor today!


    Having spent a career in knowledge management, I continue to stress these two incontrovertible facts to all ages of internet content consumers:

    1 – just because you read it on the internet doesn’t make it true

    2 – people who get paid to opine on a subject are known as “experts” while people who aren’t paid for their opinions are known as “everybody else”

      1. Will you charge for the weight of the snow and ice on the bridge as well, or just the steel/iron?

        I ask because I think one of the bridges you’re trying to unload may be a be chunkier than normal now, given recent weather. :-)

        1. Killroy, I’ll throw in the snow and ice on the bridge for free, if you throw in a plane or two for free. I’m not even picky, I’ll happily accept a DC-8, 707, L1011, or even an A318.

          You have to contact me quickly, since Bill and I are in advanced negotiations!

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