Delta has done a masterful job over the years of positioning itself as a cut above the rest, especially with its operational performance. But now, the operation is suffering, and the headlines are flowing. Here are a few…
- Delta cancels more than 700 flights Memorial Day weekend, kicking off uncertain summer travel
- WHY IS DELTA CUTTING FLIGHTS AND WHAT SHOULD I DO IF MY JOURNEY IS CANCELLED?
- Delta is cutting 100 daily flights this summer. Here’s what to know if yours is one of them.
- Delta’s canceled flights lead to weekend travel woes
The thing is, while Delta’s performance absolutely has not been good… it’s not really much different than the rest of the airlines. The problem for Delta is that it has been so good, the expectations are much higher. And now it’s paying the price for that.
Just how bad has it been? Let’s start broadly with a look at the 10 largest US airlines on the whole, including regional carriers.
Completion and Arrivals within 14 Minutes of Schedule – May Comparison
The completion factor is actually nearly identical this May compared to 2019, actually just a tick lower. But arrivals within 14 minutes of schedule (A14), well, yes, those are worse than any of the past years here. For May through the 30th, the arrivals within 14 minutes number was 78 percent.
This is, of course, a very broad brush that doesn’t look by day nor does it look by airline. To me, the most interesting comparison is just looking at the big three carriers: American, Delta, and United. Sure, we know Alaska has had a rough go of it, and JetBlue’s operation has been awful. But those are different kinds of airlines. The most pure look is comparing the three, so, let’s do that, starting with on-time arrivals.
Arrivals Within 14 Minutes of Schedule May 2022 By Day
On delays, Delta hasn’t been that bad at all, at least compared to the other two big guys. So if your flight is going, you’re not doing all that poorly. But what if it cancels? Let’s look at that.
Completion Factor May 2022 By Day
Looking at cancellations, well, yeah, Delta has done worse. Delta is an airline that does not like to cancel to the extreme — it will delay a flight 12 hours before it calls it quits and cancels — but it still has had some of the worst cancellation days in the last couple weeks so you know it’s struggling. May 28 saw every airline hurt with bad weather in the northeast, but Delta pulled back hardest and inconvenienced a whole lot of people.
That is bad, yes, but Delta tells me that of those people on canceled flights, more than 90 percent were put on flights the same day. It could have been worse… I guess?
That still means that there were a lot of people negatively impacted, of course. And I should note that I’m not trying to justify Delta’s performance here. This is bad performance for Delta, and the airline has had to take some even more obnoxious steps to fix it. For example, it cut more than 3 percent of its schedule in July. We spent a fair chunk of last weekend trying to help Cranky Concierge clients who were hit with schedule changes.
Even more odd, Delta has started to delay flights further out as it reworks a schedule. We had a client flying Friday whose flight was delayed by half an hour… on Tuesday. I suppose the basic idea here is it’s better to cause problems further in advance when there are more options available. But the fact that there are significant problems en masse is a foreign concept to the average Delta flier.
When we look at this over time, we can see that Delta is still outperforming the others. I went back to 2015 to take a look at Delta’s A14 arrival rate vs both American and United, by month. Here’s what that shows.
Arrivals Within 14 Minutes of Schedule Delta vs American and United by Month
Let’s forget about the beginning of the pandemic, because that was not reality at all. There were three months where United’s A14 crept ahead of Delta’s since 2015 and one when American’s crept ahead. That American one was recent, happening last December, with the airline also nearly tying Delta in March.
What does this mean? At worst, it means Delta’s on-time performance is closer to the pack while its cancellations are elevated on some days. This kind of performance would just be chalked up to business as usual for any other airline. Delta gets no slack.
The question now is whether or not Delta can fix this. It let more people leave the company during the pandemic than any other airline. It was exceedingly aggressive at getting that “juniority” benefit that CEO Ed Basitan perplexingly crowed about, much to the dismay of all the employees who remained. And now, Delta is paying the price with operational issues it hasn’t seen in ages.
The near-term plan to fix is to just keep cutting flights. That is not a long-term fix. Delta hasn’t had a COO since Gil West left nearly two years ago, but its head of operations John Laughter, has been at the airline for a long time. This is by far his biggest test. Can Delta get back to where it used to be operationally? Or will it become just another member of the pack? Either way, Delta is having a bad time right now… and summer has just begun.