The then-new COVID pandemic violently disrupted commercial air travel in spring 2020, bringing the industry to its knees. But demand for travel came back faster—and more aggressively—than almost anyone had expected. That disconnect between expectations and reality resulted in a staffing shortage after widespread layoffs and furloughs, which in turn created major disruptions of its own. Scrambling to meet the moment, airlines rushed to beef up their schedules by bringing back suspended routes and adding new daily departures. And while those changes might be a boon for summer travelers, there are still hurdles ahead. Now, Delta is making an upsetting last-minute decision that could leave passengers scrambling. Read on to find out what the airline is doing—and how it could affect you.
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Major airlines have bulked up their flight schedules to meet demand.
Even amid the staffing shortages and other operational challenges, some major carriers have tried to sate demand by expanding their schedules. Earlier this month, American Airlines announced it would be adding new flights to four major cities, with daily departures between Dublin, Ireland and Charlotte, Chicago O'Hare, and Dallas–Fort Worth through Oct. 29.
And last month, Southwest announced its own schedule changes. As of June 5, the carrier will begin offering once-daily service between Sacramento and Santa Barbara, California; daily flights between San Jose, California, and Eugene, Oregon; and daily service between Maui and Kauai, Hawaii. The additions also included an increase in departures for existing routes among destinations in California, including San Diego, Sacramento, and San Jose, while also adding more flights throughout the Southwest. In addition, the carrier bulked up intra-island flights in Hawaii, and international service from Fort Lauderdale and Tampa, Florida, to Havana, Cuba.
But Delta is the latest airline to announce schedule cuts instead of expansion.
Delta Air Lines will be cutting its summer schedule as demand soars. In an internal memo to staffers leaked on Twitter, the airline explained it would need to cut its schedules through August as a way to improve its reliability, as the carrier is struggling to keep pace with what the memo describes as "extreme demand" of passengers flocking to the skies.
The memo didn't specify the number of flights to be cut, but did note that the change would amount to a total number of total aircraft hours cut by "several percentage points."
Delta's schedule slashing might leave passengers in a last-minute scramble.
According to the memo, Delta hopes it will be able to give travelers several weeks' notice for any scheduling changes that will affect them. But it's clear that won't always be the case. For instance, Memorial Day weekend kicks off tomorrow—and the airline decided to cut its holiday weekend schedule just two days before.
"The bottom line is this: We know there is extreme demand to fly a very full schedule, but we continue to adjust our network and other aspects of our operations to balance customer demand for Delta with the realities of our operating environment," the memo reads.
Delta isn't the only airline to proactively cut schedules.
JetBlue has been in the spotlight lately for widespread cancellations and delays that have inconvenienced customers. It, too, hopes to avoid even more of the same going into the busy summer travel season, and as a result announced it would be striking 20 routes for parts of the summer to build in some extra slack in its schedule—and mitigate the potential for more cancellations, according to The Points Guy.