GRI Current Events Blog

Thunderstorms Cause Unprecedented Delays at Delta

GRI Research Assistant

May. 3, 2017

Multiple April thunderstorms in Atlanta resulted  in the cancellation of 4,000 Delta flights over the course of a week. The problems were exacerbated by the strict rules about crew and pilot working hours, plane staffing complexity, exacerbated by what many called an outdated communication system. Successive storms strained crew members availability, and many crew members either could not continue working or could not get to the next flight they had to be on. When staffers tried to call in for new assignments, Delta’s network became overloaded, resulting in a ‘busy signal’, and flights were cancelled when crews never appeared. Though the storms ended Wednesday April 5, because 60% of Delta airplanes go through Atlanta every day, cancellations piled up and continued through Sunday. The planes that were operational were overbooked, forcing Delta to offer gift cards so passengers would give up seats to allow crew members to make their flights.

Delta Planes – Wikimedia/Chris

Delta was criticized for putting money towards their stock buy-back program to reward shareholders instead of upgrading systems and disaster preparation. After a previous Delta technology failure, they stated they already put “hundreds of millions of dollars” system upgrades, with $450 million more to be spent in 2017. Delta plans to hire additional employees to its “minimally-staffed” coordination center to reduce conflicting instructions, and change the system to facilitate electronic communication rather than relying on crew calling in.

In August 2016, a computer failure at Delta caused 2,100 flights over three days to be cancelled. The Delta’s CEO took responsibility but stated there was “nothing endemic” about the failure. One system failure caused a power outage and a small fire, which caused a transformer to blow; when the system failed to switch to backup power, the whole network had to be rebooted.

In January of 2017, Delta grounded flights for hours due to a technology outage. Over two days, 280 flights were cancelled, hundreds more were delayed, many of these at the airline’s hubs. Part of the recent difficulties with airline technology is attributed to testing systems that have to be constantly up.


Sources and Further Reading

What Cause Massive Delays at DeltaWall Street Journal

Delta’s Latest mess highlights an industry weaknessCBS

Delta Delays Drag On, Testing Passengers’ PatienceBloomberg

Southwest Airlines computer outage grounds fleet nationwideCBS

Delta Air Lines CEO Takes Responsibility for OutageWall Street Journal

Delta Air Lines Tries to Recover From Computer OutageWall Street Journal


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