Storms that blew through the eastern US on Wednesday left a trail of disruption at Delta Air Lines that the carrier was still mopping up more than 72 hours later.
The No. 2 US airline said it had canceled around 3,000 flights in the wake of Wednesday’s storms that left passengers stranded and frustrated during one of the busiest travel weeks of the year.
Wednesday’s storms in Atlanta, the mid-Atlantic region and the Northeast had planes and crews out of position stretching into Friday.
Spring break travelers packing planes compounded an already difficult situation, making it hard to find available seats for delayed travelers and causing a pile-up in airports and telephone queues. Pilots and cabin crews who fly under tightly regulated work schedules found themselves unable to operate flights in many cases, even if planes were back in position.
Delta Chief Operating Officer Gil West called the storms that hit Atlanta on Wednesday “unprecedented.”
“The specific track and intensity of weather like this is often difficult to forecast,” said West in a message to customers. The storm cells battered Georgia and caused tornadic conditions in the area of Delta’s biggest hub airport at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, through which 60% of its 1,250-aircraft fleet visits each day.
But West also acknowledged that the airline’s recovery effort has not been “ideal” and apologized to customers.
Delta has one of the most enviable track records in the airline business. The carrier had 161 days in 2016 without a cancellation on its mainline operations. That included both cancellations related to factors it could control, like maintenance, and those it couldn’t, like weather.
The airline has faced high-profile disruptions recently. The airline suffered roughly the same number of cancellations as this week’s issues when an IT outage in August forced a halt to its operations, leaving the airline catching up for days.
Suzanne Goldklang, a reporter at CNN affiliate WNEP in Pennsylvania, had her Thursday evening departure from Savannah, Georgia, canceled, only to be rescheduled on a flight leaving four-and-a-half hours earlier. After racing to the airport to catch her new flight, that one was canceled, too. Rebooked again, her 1:30 p.m. departure on Friday was also canceled for lack of a flight attendant.
“There’s a ground hold at (New York’s) LaGuardia so they may pull us off this plane,” said Goldklang, speaking to CNN aboard a flight, her fourth attempt to get out of Savannah Friday evening. Goldklangs’ flight finally left Savannah Friday evening for New York, 61 minutes late.