Sunday was not a good day to be working in the Operations department for Delta Air Lines. Or maybe it was, assuming you’re a fan of crisis management and shuffling thousands of passengers on hundreds of canceled flights. But I’m guessing much less of that really going on.
It started somewhat comically, with the rescheduled final commercial 747 flight from Detroit to Seoul-Incheon being scrubbed. The company initially planned for the final 747 to be a flight from Seoul to Detroit on the 16th. That flight still operated with all the ceremony of being a final flight despite the addition of one more 747 turn to Seoul due to operational needs (i.e. an A350 not ready to go).
— Eric (@GoldboxATL) December 17, 2017
That rescheduled departure was scrubbed on Sunday morning.
Yup, the “final” @Delta 747 flight really is canceled. Here it is on the departure board. One of the pilots didn’t show and there isn’t a replacement available. New flight scheduled for tomorrow morning. pic.twitter.com/XNpYvMKEje
— Zach Honig (@ZachHonig) December 17, 2017
That was caused by a pilot no-show and no reserves available.
Delta’s expected last scheduled flight of the 747 was unfortunately cancelled Sunday due to an inability to fully staff the flight with its required four pilots. Customers have been given hotel rooms, meals and have been rebooked on an extra flight from Detroit to Seoul-Incheon for Monday morning. Delta exhausted all options to prevent the cancelation and apologizes to the customers delayed and inconvenienced.
That’s a mildly bad day for an ops team but nowhere close to foreshadowing what would transpire just a couple hours later when power was lost throughout the terminals at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Delta’s main hub.
The good news is that the air field didn’t lose power so air traffic control and navigation systems remained online. So did the North and South cargo facilities, meaning some flights (including a charter carrying the Atlanta Falcons) were able to continue operating. But commercial passenger operations were trashed.
For Delta the interruption is now in to 450+ flights canceled or diverted already, with more to come. Inbound international flights diverted because CBP couldn’t process the arrivals without power. Domestic flights diverted or canceled because the terminals are dark. The jet bridge systems at the gates need power to move. The baggage sort and handling conveyors need power to operate. The inter-terminal train needs power to get between the terminals. To say nothing of the need for computers to handle processing passenger boarding, the security screening checkpoints and everything else in the terminals.
It is worth noting that the Atlanta Airport Authority still has not announced what went wrong or when power is expected to be restored, despite chastising the Atlanta Journal Constitution for reporting what a Delta pilot told passengers. Somewhat ironically, that announcement came in Detroit.
— Atlanta Airport (@ATLairport) December 17, 2017
So, yeah, this was a pretty bad day for Delta operations. One cannot help but wonder a little bit if the carrier tempted fate a bit too much during comments at the company’s investor day briefing last week.
"It's come that weather is the only major driver of cancellations for us," says $DAL COO West
— Edward Russell (@e_russell) December 14, 2017
CEO Ed Bastian suggested that moving IT Operations to a new data center meant there was no chance of another IT meltdown. Anyone who knows anything about IT systems knows that’s a ridiculous claim to make. COO Gil West doubled down, suggesting that only weather causes flight cancelations. Oopsie.
— Seth Miller (@WandrMe) December 14, 2017
Also of note: Around 4:30pm Southwest Airlines made the decision to scrub the rest of the day’s operations at ATL. Delta is not giving up so easy. Which makes some sense given the significantly higher volume of affected flights and passengers Delta has. But, still, the company has to eventually concede that things are not going to fly and let passengers figure out alternatives.
At the beginning of a busy holiday travel week the recovery is going to be particularly rough. Planes and crew out of position plus high load factors don’t leave many options for recovery.
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