Delta: 8,000 employees tested positive for COVID-19 in last four weeks

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Delta Air Lines said about 8,000 of its more than 75,000 employees tested positive for COVID-19 in the last four weeks, contributing to thousands of flight cancellations over the busy holiday travel season.

Delta CEO Ed Bastian said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution the omicron variant is moving rapidly. Employees have been returning to work after recovering, allowing the airline to stabilize operations over the last week.

Delta in late December pushed for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to reduce the recommended isolation time for positive cases from 10 days to five days, a change that the CDC made and the airline quickly implemented.

Bastian said Atlanta-based Delta has only canceled only about 1% of its flight schedule due to omicron over the last week. He said no vaccinated employees have died. More than 95% of the airline’s employees are vaccinated.

“We’re already probably well past the peak as affecting our own staff,” Bastian said. “Things are moving in a good direction for us. The doctors have told us it will decline as rapidly as it appeared and they seem to be right.”

A month ago, Bastian was looking toward “a really strong holiday period.” Then, the omicron surge combined with snowstorms just before Christmas, causing staffing shortages and flight cancellations that stretched into January.

Bastian said the disruptions ended up costing the airline about $75 million, mostly in revenue due to flight cancellations and a decline in bookings due to omicron. Storms cost the airline another $5 million. He said while there were costs due to the cancellations, “there were also some savings” from not operating the flights.

Through the last two years of COVID-19 disrupting travel, Delta has extended the expiration date for flight credits, which are given to many customers who cancel their travel plans. Delta announced this week that it will extend flight credits to allow rebookings through Dec. 31, 2023.

Bastian said the airline has made some cutbacks to its flight schedule, mostly international flights.

Delta President Glen Hauenstein said during an investor call Thursday that the airline also has reduced its regional flying by about 20% to 25% for the first half of the year as its regional carrier partners struggle to hire enough pilots.

After hiring 9,000 employees over the last year with plans to hire several thousand this year, Bastian said he is comfortable with the airline’s own staffing levels.

“You can’t run a business with reserves always in place to manage the unknown,” Bastian said. “You’ve got to manage with the resources you have.”