Delta Cuts Schedule Approx. 3 Percent, Citing Pilot Shortage

A T L A N T A, Jan. 4, 2001 -- Delta Air Lines is trimming its flight schedule an average of 2.7 percent through the first quarter of 2001 as it struggles to manage continuing pilot shortages stemming from a contract dispute.

Negotiations involving the pilots, Delta and federal mediators were scheduled to resume today.

Most of the eliminated flights are between cities with frequent service and redeye flights from Las Vegas to the East Coast. Delta cut about 5 percent of its flights last month as the effect of crew shortages became apparent.

About 4 percent of Delta’s 2,700 daily flights will be cut in February and about 3.5 percent in March. This month, Delta will eliminate less than 1 percent of its scheduled flights, including a daily round-trip between Atlanta and both Newark, N.J., and Tampa, Fla., and between Jackson, Miss., and Shreveport, La.

Delta’s Ohio-based subsidiary, Comair, will begin flying some routes to replace Delta service. No cities will be removed from the carrier’s route network, Delta spokesman Russ Williams said Wednesday.

The Atlanta-based airline, the nation’s third-largest, has canceled thousands of flights since November as it struggles with pilot unavailability. Some pilots have refused to fly overtime to express their displeasure with the company’s contract offer.

Delta and its 9,800 pilots have been negotiating a new contract since September 1999. The airline completes about 5 percent of its schedule with overtime flying.

“We’re trying to create a schedule that provides more reliability for our passengers,” Williams said.

Weather, Bowl Game Traffic Take Their Toll

The company has focused the cuts on cities where it offers the most service, primarily Atlanta and Cincinnati, its biggest hubs. Delta’s Dallas-Fort Worth and Salt Lake City hubs are largely unaffected.

Delta said it canceled more than 2,000 flights from last Thursday to Monday, with crew shortages responsible for nearly half of the 7,500 cancellations last month.

Waits over the weekend were especially long in Miami, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., from Sunday through Tuesday in part because of the college bowl football games and normally heavy winter travel to Florida, Delta said.

A spokesman for the pilots’ union, the Air Line Pilots Association, accused Delta of trying to publicize the issue to help its legal battle against the union. The company is asking a federal appeals court in Atlanta to reverse a federal judge’s decision last month denying it a restraining order against pilots.

Delta contends that some pilots are coordinating a “no-overtime” campaign against the airline and that a court order would resolve much of its staffing woes. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has scheduled arguments in the case for Jan. 11.

“It would sound as if they’re rehashing old news to keep the thing alive for their court case next week,” ALPA spokesman Greg Holm said Wednesday. The union has urged pilots who fly voluntary overtime to continue doing so.