April 7, 2017 Atlanta - Delta passengers wait in line in hopes of catching their flight out of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Friday, April 7, 2017. Dozens of long lines with thousands of passengers trying to get help extended through the terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, as the fallout of Delta Air Lines’ flight cancellations extended into a third day. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC/hshin@ajc.com
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC/hshin@ajc.com

Delta maps out fixes after meltdown caused mass cancellations

Delta Air Lines mapped out a series of fixes to alleviate mass cancellations like those that plagued the carrier after an April thunderstorm and disrupted travel plans of hundreds of thousands of people.

In a memo to employees Wednesday, Delta CEO Ed Bastian and chief operating officer Gil West wrote that an internal task force has been analyzing why the recovery “fell short.”

“We know some [employees] are still taking care of customers who were impacted by the storm. Thanks for pulling Delta out of the ditch,” they wrote.

The airline is being sued by one of its most loyal customers because he was accidentally promised a $6,000 refund.

A big cause of the meltdown was strain on Delta’s crew scheduling and crew tracking system, which left planes without pilots and flight attendants in Atlanta and across the country and exacerbated flight cancellations for days

Crew scheduling is a combination of an automated and manual system. Crews wait for calls back from a crew scheduling desk, which during the mass cancellations was overloaded with calls, as were Delta’s customer service lines.

The Delta meltdown came right in the middle of a busy spring break travel period, disrupting the trips of thousands of families with young children in tow and leaving them stranded in airports or in cities away from home.

Employee vacations over spring break also made it more difficult for Delta to respond to the problems, the company acknowledged.

“We’ve learned from that and will make sure our Spring Break staffing levels match that of other busy travel periods so we can be better prepared to recover from an even like we saw,” according to the memo.

The cancellations were also exacerbated by the storm’s hit to Atlanta, then to its two hubs in New York. The storm that hit the Northeast “carried the final blow and was the tipping point that drove our prolonged recovery,” according to Bastian and West. They said “the cumulative effect of storms hitting multiple hubs overwhelmed our crew tracking and scheduling processes and technology.”

Among the planned fixes are plans to develop more mobile capabilities for agents to check passengers in and board them.

Delta also plans to double the size of the crew tracking staff during irregular operations and add phone lines, put crew scheduling staff in crew lounges to help reroute them, improve the hotel accommodation process and develop more formal plans for irregular operations of varying severity.

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