Delta flight cancellations continue Friday: “It was like a madhouse”

The airline cancelled 3,000 flights this week, as crew and aircraft issues extended into a third day after the Wednesday storm crippled its largest hub.


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.

Some flight cancellations continued Friday as the airline continued to struggle with getting available crews and aircraft positioned to operate flights. FlightAware.com listed more than 500 Delta flight cancellations on Friday.

All told, Delta said it has cancelled about 3,000 flights this week due to the thunderstorm and the ensuing crew and aircraft positioning issues -- making the total impact greater than the massive system outage it experienced last year and snowstorms that virtually shut down flights at an airport.

The thunderstorm in Atlanta, which hit Delta’s largest hub on Wednesday, has had effects that reverberated through its flight network for days.

Delta said Friday it is “working hard to stabilize the operation to get it back to a reliable state.”

But the airline also warned that heavy spring break travel means there are few open seats for rebooking, leaving limited options for passengers whose flights were cancelled.

Long lines for rebooking, baggage assistance and check-in at Delta counters filled the terminal Friday morning, two days after the thunderstorm that triggered the flight disruptions.

For the second night in a row at Hartsfield-Jackson, weary travelers spread across the floor of the terminal to get sleep overnight after their flights were cancelled Thursday. Some said they had been stuck on planes until 2 or 3 a.m. before a final flight cancellation left them stranded.

Delta’s systems were also overtaxed: Many travelers struggled to get information or rebookings from Delta’s app, its website or from its customer service phone line.

Thousands of people stood in hours-long lines in the concourses and in the terminal to try to get rebooked on flights back home or to their destinations.

Delta said those whose flights are cancelled and who don’t travel are entitled to a refund. The airline is also waiving certain change fees for passengers affected by the disruptions who want to reschedule their flights.

“It looks like a disaster zone,” said traveler Shadow McKnight, who was trying to get home to Starkville, Miss. “Just how everybody is piled up on every available surface... I’ve never seen it like this.”

McKnight had been scheduled to fly back to the Memphis airport Thursday evening at around 8 p.m., but said her flight was delayed until 10 p.m., then 11 p.m., then midnight. “And then they cancelled it,” she said, because the crew wasn’t able to get to Atlanta on their own flights.

Seeing the line stretching down the concourse for customer service, “I was like, ‘This is just crazy.’” A Delta agent at the gate helped her and a few other passengers to get rebooked during a few extra moments before having to move on.

To get to Memphis would require waiting until Saturday, and spending another night in Atlanta. McKnight tried to get a rental car but found none available.

Instead, her husband will drive from Mississippi to Atlanta to pick her up, then head to the Memphis airport to pick up her car before going back to Starkville.

“At this point, I just have to get home,” said McKnight, a furniture designer who is trying to return home from a business trip to Louisville. She spent the night in the terminal. “I kind of just walked around for a while, then found a table and laid my head down.”

McKnight said she is understanding of the challenges Delta has faced.

“It was just a series of unfortunate events,” McKnight said. “Nothing was in place to work out easily for them. I’ll fly Delta again. Everybody has bad days, right?”

Traveler Farzad Saghian said his flight back home to New York after a business trip was scheduled to depart at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, then was delayed until 11:30 p.m., 12:30 a.m., then 1:30 a.m.

“First they didn’t have a captain, then they didn’t have a crew” of flight attendants, Saghian said. “We waited until 3:30 [a.m.] until they just said yes, it’s cancelled.”

Everyone was frustrated, he said. “They kept on giving us hopes: ‘Don’t worry, it’s not going to cancel.’”

“I always fly Delta everywhere,” Saghian said. For the past 20 years I’ve been with Delta. So I’m with them. I understand. It’s the weather. But they could have been a little more courteous. People were frustrated. There were babies in people’s hands.”

Saghian, who travels to Atlanta five times a year, had been in the airport for 14 hours by Friday morning and was set to wait another several hours for his rescheduled flight.

“It’s always busy, but I have never seen this airport like this,” Saghian said. “It was like a madhouse.”


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