You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myAJC.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myAJC.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myAJC.com.

Delta executive apologizes after airline cancels another 500 flights

Thousands stuck at Hartsfield-Jackson after storm


Thousands of travelers waited in long lines stretching through the terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Thursday, the messy aftermath of mass flight cancellations due to thunderstorms the day before.

Delta Air Lines cancelled roughly 500 flights Thursday due to planes being out of position, crews being out of place and crew rest requirements after Wednesday’s storms, according to Delta spokesman Michael Thomas.

Delta Air Lines flight cancellations total 3,000 for the week

That came after the airline cancelled about 700 flights Wednesday and diverted more than 60 flights. That’s significantly more than the 300 flight cancellations Delta had expected earlier in the day.

At mid-afternoon Thursday, a ground delay program was causing delays averaging more than five hours long for some arriving flights, according to Federal Aviation Administration flight delay information.

Delta chief operating officer Gil West said in a written statement late Thursday afternoon that “we, as always, learn from these experiences. While we can’t control the weather, we understand the resulting recovery has not been ideal and we apologize for that.”

The severe weather on Wednesday “was unprecedented for Atlanta” and difficult to forecast, he said.

Many travelers were trying to get rebooked on flights back home or to their destinations after spending the night in the airport, while others waited in a long line for baggage assistance.

The combination of a busy spring break week with many families and children traveling and a worse-than expected storm led to major pain for travelers. While some travelers resorted to searching for rental cars to drive home, many vehicles were already taken because of the Masters Tournament in Augusta.

“It’s been a nightmare,” said traveler Greg Hall from Roanoke, Va. who was returning from a business trip to Louisiana.

He said after a flight delay Wednesday, he and his colleagues didn’t get in until after midnight. They got to a hotel in downtown, slept from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m., then returned to the airport early Thursday.

“We had flights this morning, and they were cancelled again this morning,” Hall said. “It’s been kind of a fiasco.... We’re having to rent a car. Just had to bag the airline flight.”

Sarah Madden, a traveler from the Scranton, Pa. area who was stuck in Atlanta overnight, said the flight she and her husband were supposed to take “kept getting delayed over and over again.”

“We were delayed because they didn’t have personnel,” said her husband Matthew Madden. “We got on the flight,” waited a couple of hours, then we taxied out and the storm stopped us.... We taxied out again and the plane’s weather radar malfunctioned.” 

How to survive an airline meltdown

Then, the Maddens and other passengers had to get off the plane because of the long tarmac delay. “They were going to get us a new plane. We waited for another two hours, then they said they couldn’t get a pilot... so they just cancelled it.”

Then, at around 12:30 a.m. the Maddens tried to find a hotel or rental car, but “everything was booked,” Matthew Madden said.

He said he then waited in line for Delta customer service in the airport terminal from 1:30 a.m. until 5:30 a.m. while Sarah sat on the floor.

The Maddens had been en route to a vacation in San Antonio, but decided to scrap the vacation since they wouldn’t be able to get on a flight into San Antonio until the night before the morning they have to return home.

They hoped to just get on a flight back home Thursday afternoon. “If they can’t get us home, we’re just going to drive -- but it’s 14 hours,” Matthew Madden said. “I’m not flying Delta again.”

“It’s sad that they wouldn’t try to help us out with a hotel because they said it was just the weather,” Sarah Madden said. “But really it had to do with the staff shortage.”

Crews displaced

Delta’s Thomas said the length of the thunder and lightning, with a series of storm cells hitting the airport that led to a roughly five-hour long ground stop, “makes recovering the operation a little more challenging.”

The duration of thunderstorms can be harder to predict than snowstorms, making flight planning more difficult. When lightning is in the area, the airport ramps must be closed, which slows down operations.

Then, the resulting flight cancellations cascade to affect subsequent flights.

“When an airplane doesn’t fly, it means that crews aren’t getting to where they need to be,” Thomas said, along with limits on how long crews can be on duty before a required rest period.

But many travelers were still frustrated with the fallout.

Frequent traveler William Morrill from Gulf Breeze, Fla. called Delta understaffed and unprepared, adding: “So many families with kids on spring break waiting in four hour lines and being told they couldn’t get them out for two more more days and no hotels were being offered... You just can’t do this to people.”

Travel agent “very, very upset with Delta”

Traveler Belinda England from Glasgow, Ky. was returning with family from a vacation in Cancun, and said delays left their flight getting into Hartsfield-Jackson at around 2 a.m. By the time they got through Customs and tried to recheck their baggage, they had missed their connecting flight back home.

“I’m a travel agent, and I’m very, very upset with Delta,” England said. “I know weather is not their fault, but they had ample time to get their act together.” She said the experience would affect her interest in selling Delta flights in the future.

It was “the perfect storm -- and we got caught in the middle of it,” England said. She said the wait for the Delta 800 number was two to three hours -- “You couldn’t get a hold of anyone.”

England and her family are having someone drive from Kentucky to Hartsfield-Jackson to pick them up and then drive them back to Nashville to pick up their car at the airport.

Traveling with her husband, son and daughter’s family, she said it was the first flight for her young granddaughter and friend, ages 11 and 12, “and probably the last” after the experience.

England said she believes the problem is “not only Delta, it’s Atlanta. They just weren’t ready.”


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Travel

Along the Mekong River, a timeless place where time marches on
Along the Mekong River, a timeless place where time marches on

Deep in the folds of the hill, up steep stone stairs flanked with frangipani trees, stood the inner sanctum of the ancient Khmer temple of Vat Phou.  We faced the mountain ridge, our backs to the waters of the Mekong River, looking for the chamber. From this angle, it was hidden. But other parts of the temple had begun revealing themselves to...
À la Française in Harlem
À la Française in Harlem

Harlem has long had a romance with France. Well before the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, African-American artists and musicians traveled to France to broaden their artistic vision or to escape the daily oppression of American racism.  Not widely known, however, is that the traffic went both ways, with French tourists visiting Harlem because...
Inside a Colorado pot club - a rare and endangered species
Inside a Colorado pot club - a rare and endangered species

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — It's the fish tank featuring a colorful reef made of glass marijuana pipes that ultimately sets the Speakeasy Vape Lounge apart from any other strip-mall bar and confirms what it really is: one of the United States' only legal pot clubs.  The fact that it and a few dozen like it already exist in Colorado was...
Highway 101: Best hotels between San Francisco and Santa Barbara

The stretch of Highway 101 from San Francisco to Santa Barbara offers a vast array of lodging options, from chain motels to boutique inns. Sure, you could do the 300-plus miles in a single day, but it’s more fun to dabble along the way. You can go tasting at some of the stunning wineries in Paso Robles, Pismo or down near Los Olivos or Los Alamos...
Feasting in Verona, where tradition and creativity intersect
Feasting in Verona, where tradition and creativity intersect

It was a chilly Tuesday afternoon in a giant shopping center in Verona, Italy, and there was a feast before me: a plate of tagliatelle strewn with saffron, spec and mushroom; oversized raviolis packed with scampi and artichoke. The raviolis on my friend’s plate were stuffed with polenta and ossobuco. It was disorienting to be in a mall because...
More Stories