Pilot shortage prompts rare flight cancellations at Delta over Thanksgiving break

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Passengers check bags for a Delta Air Lines, Inc. flight during the Covid-19 pandemic at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California, November 18, 2020.

Patrick Fallon | AFP | Getty Images

Delta Air Lines canceled hundreds of flights over the Thanksgiving break as it grappled with staffing shortages during the busiest travel week since the coronavirus pandemic began.

While demand remains less than half of last year’s levels because of the pandemic Transportation Security Administration airport screenings rose above 1 million on Sunday and Wednesday, the highest in more than eight months.

On Thursday, Delta canceled about 300 flights, roughly 20% of its schedule and around 160 flights, or around 9% of Friday’s schedule.

“A number of factors have pressured our ability to timely staff several dozen scheduled flights,” Delta said in a statement. “We apologize to our customers for any inconvenience these flight cancellations have caused.”

The airline expects operations to return to normal over the weekend and said most customers whose flights were cancelled were rebooked on flights the same day.

The operational problems, reported earlier by the View from the Wing blog, come after hundreds of pilots took early retirement packages. And earlier this week pilots approved a deal to accept partial pay not to fly that would avoid more than 1,700 furloughs until 2022.

Cuts to pilot ranks can create cascading problems because pilots need to be trained and maintain currency on certain aircraft and cannot easily switch from one to another.

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