Delta loses $408M in fourth quarter with 8,000 workers out sick

A Delta Air Lines employee works on the departures level at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on August 25, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.
A Delta Air Lines employee works on the departures level at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on August 25, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images) Photo credit Getty Images

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines lost $408 million in the final quarter of last year due to 2,200 canceled flights beginning on Christmas Eve. Winter storms and sick employees contributed to the cancellations.

As the omicron variant of COVID-19 continues to cause a spike in cases and hospitalizations across the country, challenges remain for the airline in the new year. In fact, Delta Air Lines said about 8,000 of its more than 75,000 employees tested positive for COVID-19 in the past four weeks, according to a Thursday report by the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

“Omicron is expected to temporarily delay the demand recovery 60 days, but as we look past the peak, we are confident in a strong spring and summer travel season with significant pent-up demand for consumer and business travel,” said Delta CEO Ed Bastian, according to a press release about the company’s 2021 financial results.

However, Delta employees have been returning to work after recovering, allowing the airline to stabilize operations over the last week.

Before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reduced the number of recommended isolation days from 10 to five in late December, Delta encouraged the centers to shorten the isolation period. Once the shorter timeframe was CDC-approved the airline implemented it.

However, Delta and a large flight attendants union were fighting just this week about whether the company’s new isolation policy for employees who test positive for the coronavirus puts workers and travelers at risk, said The New York Times.

“While the rapidly spreading omicron variant has significantly impacted staffing levels and disrupted travel across the industry, Delta's operation has stabilized over the last week and returned to pre-holiday performance,” according to Bastian.

He said that he expects Delta is “well past the peak,” of COVID-19 affecting staff, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Since the start of the pandemic, at least 10 Delta employees have died from the virus.

“With omicron impacting our near-term outlook, we expect losses in January and February months with a return to profitability in the month of March,” said Delta CFO Dan Janki. “Despite expectations for a loss in the March quarter, we remain positioned to generate a healthy profit in the June, September and December quarters, resulting in a meaningful profit in 2022.”

According to the Associated Press, Bastian said that January and February are typically the weakest time of the year for the company.

Though air travel has not quite bounced back to pre-pandemic levels, data from the Transportation Security Agency shows that there have been significantly more flights this month than January 2021, when the FDA first cleared a COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use. Now, vaccines are available to people age 5 and older in the U.S., as well as booster doses and a limited supply of antiviral pills.