Delta Air Lines had largest percentage of cancellations in May; here's the latest

Kyle Potter of Thrifty Traveler explains airline challenges and how post-summer travel is shaping up
Delta Airlines
It was a rough couple of months for Delta Air Lines, and really for all airlines across the board. But Delta Air Lines had the most cancellations of any U.S. airline in May, according to the latest federal data. Photo credit Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY NETWORK

It was a rough couple of months for Delta Air Lines, and really for all airlines across the board. But Delta Air Lines had the most cancellations of any U.S. airline in May, according to the latest federal data.

United Air and JetBlue were the second and third worst for cancellations while Hawaiian, Southwest and Frontier performed the best.

Kyle Potter with Thrifty Traveler says the Department of Transportation does this periodically to see how airlines have performed on everything from delays and cancellations, to mishandled bags and customer complaints.

“This data that was released just yesterday for airline performance in May shows what I think everyone already knows, which is that May, and in particular Memorial Day weekend, was just a really terrible stretch for an airline,” Potter told Vineeta Sawkar on the WCCO Morning News.

Potter says Delta had prided itself on running on time, more so than any other airline in the country prior to this summer.

“The amount of cancellations that Delta had just in May, to put this in perspective, was nearly double the amount of flights that they canceled from May through September of 2019,” explains Potter. “So really just a tough month.”

“I'd like to sincerely apologize to those who have been impacted by cancellations, delays, and long wait times,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian said during last Wednesday's quarterly earnings call. “Restoring operational excellence is our top priority.”

Despite those much higher than normal numbers, Potters says less than 3% of Delta flights were canceled in May which is relatively a low number. Of course that doesn’t make anyone who had a flight cancelled feel any better Potter said.

“Perspective is important on both sides of the coin,” says Potter. “On the positive side, many Delta flyers, even in the worst times, had been getting on and off the ground on time. That's important. But on the other side, in May, 2019 Delta mainline flights, the actual Delta branded bigger jets, not the regional jets that call themselves Delta Connection, did not cancel a single flight in May of 2019. Things definitely got pretty bad as the summer travel season got underway.”

Potter adds that these issues are certainly looking a lot better now than they were a few months ago.

Delta says the numbers they saw in July were much better. Bastian said last week that the airline had canceled just 25 flights worldwide through July 11. Delta completed 99.2% of its 30,000-plus flights in that span, with more than 80% of them arriving on time.

Meanwhile, Delta profits have been high. They noted that they posted a $735 profit in Q2 and expects another strong Q3.

Prices for flights have also been high with demand way up over the summer.

“Airlines know that the people who are looking for flights in August, or maybe even early September in some cases, it's just too late,” says Potter. “Airlines know that the people who are looking for these fares really need to get somewhere and they're going to pay for it. The plus side here is that there are two factors that really mean there are some great deals out there, especially as we get into the very, very last gasp of summer and into the fall. The first is that fuel prices have been coming down. There's no question that is a benefit for airlines. It is one of their biggest costs. The more that those numbers tick down at the pump and on the trading floors, the better it is for airlines and the more wiggle room that gives them to lower fares.”

Potter says the other factor is airlines across the country are predicting a steep drop off in air travel post-summer.

“What has driven the prices high this summer is really just supply and demand,” Potter says. “The demand for travel is absolutely through the roof right now. And once that starts to drop off a little bit, I think we're going to see some even better deals. And in fact, we're already seeing some great deals in and out of Minneapolis once we get into the very late summer and early fall.”

Featured Image Photo Credit: Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY NETWORK