Operations Control Center of Delta Air Lines
Photograph ©2009 by Brian Cohen.

Delta Air Lines Has Still Not Fully Recovered From Inclement Weather

T he airwaves of Atlanta were filled with warnings from meteorologists on that calm and summery Tuesday in April pertaining to the strong storms which were about to pummel the metropolitan area. “If you do not have to go anywhere, stay home” and “now is the time to prepare for your safe place — not tomorrow” were only a couple of the foreboding messages repeatedly broadcast portending to the potential dangers of the inclement weather expected to impact millions of people.

My immediate first instinct was to post an article giving a travel alert to you in case your travels took you through the international airport which serves the greater Atlanta metropolitan area; but I did not want to sensationalize a weather event which should have caused relatively minor inconveniences to airline passengers at best.

I was wrong to ignore that initial instinct; and I apologize to you for not reporting on this weather event sooner.

Delta Air Lines Has Still Not Fully Recovered From Inclement Weather

After poring through the radar images and studying the weather maps as a self-proclaimed lay meteorologist on Tuesday, April 4, 2017, I headed over to the travel advisory area of the official Internet web site of Delta Air Lines.

To my surprise, I found nothing pertaining to the impending weather event which was predicted to significantly affect Atlanta and much of the southeastern United States…

…but I have been in the meteorology department of the Operations Control Center at Delta Air Lines and know that they know what was going on — and with their many years of experience, they know much more than I ever could about the weather. I trust their prognostications significantly more than I would meteorologists who are employed by the media. I have no question in my mind that they reported on all of their findings — as well as their recommendations — to the people responsible for operations at Delta Air Lines.

I figured that they must know something that I do not to not have an official travel advisory — as well as to not proactively cancel at least some flights for that next day — so I incorrectly decided not to cause what could be undue alarm by posting a travel alert on the potential weather event.

That was a mistake — but then again…

“Unprecedented” Weather?

“Wednesday’s severe weather was unprecedented for Atlanta and the specific track and intensity of weather like this is often difficult to forecast”, Gil West — who is the senior executive vice president and chief operating officer of Delta Air Lines — said in a statement from this article posted the day after the weather event at Delta News Hub. “The convective activity and storm cells, mixed with tornadic conditions, continued to hit in and around the Atlanta Airport from the early morning hours and lasted through the evening, essentially halting much of the day’s operation, prompting delays and cancellations.”

Cancellations of flights have numbered in the hundreds as a result over the past three days, with thousands of tired, frustrated and angry passengers being significantly inconvenienced.

First, I would not say that the weather was “unprecedented” — especially for the Atlanta area. Prior to my traveling to New York for the second annual Frequent Traveler Awards — of which I was a founding board member but has since reverted back to the Freddie Awards — several years ago, I stayed up all night monitoring tornadic activity which directly impacted the international airport that serves the greater Atlanta metropolitan area. I had no idea whether or not I was going to be able to travel from Atlanta to New York on Thursday, April 28, 2011 — but after experiencing significant delays which I definitely expected, American Airlines eventually got me to LaGuardia Airport just in time for me to rush over to the hotel near Citi Field.

My personal experience is but one example of the impact on travel at the airport by severe inclement weather over the years — in fact, some people would argue that Atlanta is famous for that type of weather…

…but the warnings broadcast from meteorologists were quite clear on Tuesday earlier this week that the Atlanta metropolitan area would be significantly affected by at least two rounds of severe weather. “If the sun shines after the first round of storms, do not let your guard down,” warned one meteorologist. “That will only serve to feed fuel to the next round of storms expected to pass through.”

In other words, if people in the Atlanta metropolitan area knew what was going to happen, then the decision makers at Delta Air Lines also knew. Unusual might be a more appropriate word than unprecedented to describe the weather this past Wednesday in terms of the number of times the airport was affected by the severe storms, in my opinion…

…but then again, what do I know?!?

The Result: Days of Recovery

“How long do you think this can last?” asked FlyerTalk member Psyduck1 in this discussion earlier today. “I’m starting to wonder if I’ll have risk to my travel plans for Thursday.”

Regardless of the reasons why Delta Air Lines was not as proactive as it should have been pertaining to minimizing the inconvenience of its customers, the undisputed fact is that many passengers have experienced substantial delays and cancellations of flights operated by Delta Air Lines. People have had to choose to either splurge for the unexpected expense of a hotel room or seek out a spot on the floor at the airport overnight. Some have canceled their flights on Delta Air Lines to either book a ticket on a competing airline or rent a car to drive as many as 16 hours to their final destinations. Times waiting on hold to update a travel itinerary has been clocked in hours — even for members of the SkyMiles program who have earned elite level status.

I am uncertain as to the veracity of this statement posted early this morning by FlyerTalk member NWAFA

Ok, this is what’s happening. FAs can be reached at any time by the company/scheduling by using the sky pro icrew. Because of the melt down, the FAs have been ordered to stop calling in and only go by what their schedules say on the skypro. No one is updating the skypros. When they do get updated, it’s late or outdated. Flight crews showing up for canceled flts, scheduling looking for crews in the wrong cities i.e. LAX when the crew is in ATL.

Flight crews are being over worked. On duty for 30+ hours -no sleep. No place for the crews to sleep when they are on the ground. The company has given up on trying to find hotels for FAs. The crews are told, once in the air, to find their own accommodations when they get to their destination. The company will reimburse them later. The trouble is, many of the crew are junior and don’t have the money for a room even if they can find them. Lack of sleep and no showers.

Because of what it happening, working crews illegally, the FAA is now starting an investigation. That is a fact.

While flight crews are easy targets, they aren’t being treated any better than the customers.

…but one source confided in me that Delta Air Lines has asked for volunteers to help the airline get back to normal operations by performing duties such as directing passenger traffic in the airport; handing out food and beverages; and even performing the role of a gate agent. Assuming that this is indeed true, I find it shameful that a multibillion dollar company which has experienced financial quarter after financial quarter of record profits is asking for volunteers instead of paying these people to do a job which might not have been necessary in the first place.

The Result of Consolidation in Commercial Aviation?

“Next issue is how full Delta jets are”, according to this article written by René de Lambert of Renés Points. “We know they want to reach 20×2020 that is only 20% of 1st class seats open on any jet by 2020 and all of coach full. This is great for making money but the issue is by pushing what is called capacity control or cutting flights so every flight can be full it leaves little extra capacity in the system when things go wrong like they did this week. Some of the issue this week has been made worse by Delta’s choices of how to run the airline. Now I get that we are in the middle of “Spring Break” week as well but that does not excuse the standard practice of selling and overselling everything to make matters worse (and BTW, doesn’t Spring Break happen every year?).”

There has also been the cancelation of interline agreements of Delta Air Lines with airlines such as American Airlines and Emirates Airline, which could have potentially alleviated the current situation significantly by sending affected passengers on their way with other airlines.

Keep in mind that Delta Air Lines is certainly not the only airline which has had more than its share of problems within at least the past year. As one example, United Airlines has suffered from significant outages also — such as this one from January of 2017.

Perhaps my memory does not recall correctly; but I do not seem to remember the repeated occurrence of system and operational failures of significant magnitudes from airlines. Are these incidents occurring more often than in the past? Could they — as well as other airline failures — be the result of the consolidation of airlines in the United States where less competition tends to breed complacency and greed, which usually tends to lead to eroding trust from customers? Is there really any incentive for an airline based in the United States to improve as a result of limited competition?

“I closed my Delta Amex card last week”, rjb — who is a reader of The Gate — wrote in the Comments section of this article pertaining to the inexplicable decision from Delta Air Lines to increase the redemption of the amount of SkyMiles for award travel on flights operated by partner airlines during this debacle. “Good riddance! Delta’s meltdown this week had many of my co-workers strugglig to get where they needed to be. They were rewarded with hours-long hold times , full flights and no help whatsoever. Trying to get to Cleveland? We can get you to Columbus and then you are on your own.”

Are attempts to squeeze more profits possibly backfiring on airlines?


The words which come to mind are inexcusable and unacceptable. The primary reason is because I have had the privilege to visit the Operations Control Center multiple times at the world headquarters of Delta Air Lines multiple times. I have met a number of the dedicated and experienced professionals in that department. I have seen the equipment using state-of-the-art technology which is in operation there. I have even witnessed them resolving aviation issues during my visits. A visit to the Operations Control Center can be mesmerizing; and I hold Delta Air Lines to higher standards and expectations than other airlines as a result.

Operations Control Center of Delta Air Lines
Photograph ©2009 by Brian Cohen.

As much as I realize how passengers typically do not understand certain irregular operations which can affect an airline, I also am puzzled how Delta Air Lines — an entity known in the past for its customer service, world-class operations, and dedicated employees — can drop the ball as it has not only this past week, but at least twice in the past year in August and again in December

…to the point where I mistakenly reported on what I thought was yet another system failure of Delta Air Lines almost two month ago as imparted to me by someone whom I consider to be a reliable source. Fortunately, that was not the case…

…but I realized that for me to react that way was just as unusual as Delta Air Lines experiencing system failures and “meltdowns” — and realize that other airlines have experienced similar situations. Despite my admiration for the airline and its employees — many who I know personally — am I losing trust in how Delta Air Lines operates?

“We are grateful for your patience and want you to know that we, as always, learn from these experiences”, said Gil West in the aforementioned article. “While we can’t control the weather, we understand the resulting recovery has not been ideal and we apologize for that.”

That is a nice sentiment — and it seems to me that Delta Air Lines has a lot to learn from the current operations debacle — but might it be too late?

“Loyalty died several years ago”, opined rjb in the aforementioned comment. “This week, I flew AA, Jet Blue and United. AA was surprisingly positive, Jet Blue was consistently good and United was a disaster. Next week, who knows? but I won’t be beholden to any one crrier. best price, best schedule wins. Lets see what hapens in the next recession.”

Members of FlyerTalk photograph the Operations Control Center from its conference room at the world headquarters of Delta Air Lines. All photographs ©2009 by Brian Cohen.

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