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Delta cancels more than 700 flights Memorial Day weekend, kicking off uncertain summer travel

Experts say Delta's struggle is yet another sign of turbulent times that could continue for months.

MINNEAPOLIS — Delta Airlines is the latest U.S. carrier to cancel hundreds of flights in a weekend, due to a mix of compounding issues, but the timing of the latest meltdown is a troubling sign for loyal travelers and industry experts.

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, from Friday to Memorial Day, Delta cancelled more than 715 flights, including nearly 100 at MSP.

Prior to the weekend, Delta was already warning customers that there could be cancellations due to anticipated problems with severe weather and air traffic control along with longstanding issues related to pilot staffing, COVID cases among crew members and sky-high customer demand. 

But while many airlines have faced similar underlying issues, people traveling with Delta are feeling it more than others right now.

"This is primarily a Delta problem over the course of this Memorial Day weekend," said Kyle Potter, Editor in Chief of Thrifty Traveler. 

Potter says the problems are felt even more by travelers in Minnesota, because more than 70 percent of flights out of MSP are on Delta planes, and it's the kind of carrier many have grown to count on.

"I think there's no question that this hurts more because it's Delta, because it's an airline that has really built a brand that has built a reputation around being reliable and being on time," he said. 

"I'll put it this way, in the summer of 2019, Delta cancelled 738 flights, and they have canceled more than that just since Friday. There's only so much that Delta can do to drop the ball the way it has this weekend - and the way it has several times in the course of the pandemic - before that image is going to be severely shaken."

Christine Erickson says she has been a loyal Delta customer for years, because she counts on that reliability for her business to work. She managed to avoid a cancellation for her Delta flight on Monday, but she did encounter a delay by the time she got to the airport.

"I hope I can get out, I need to work," Erickson said. "I would say 9 times out of 10 I've been delayed (on Delta) lately. I usually always get a text beforehand so I know, but once you're here, you're stuck. You're at their mercy, especially when you're on the plane. This last flight I was literally sitting on the plane for three hours."

In response to a KARE 11 question about the cancellations this weekend, Delta pointed to updated guidance for summer travel, which details its operational challenges, along with plans to reduce its summer schedule in the hope of bringing more reliability to the busy months ahead.

"They tried to do that ahead of this weekend too and it didn't work, so I think it really just depends on how much wiggle room they have given themselves," Potter said. "And what else goes wrong through the course of the summer."

Potter says the same questions remain for all of the major carriers as well.

 "The overarching problem that caused this meltdown with Delta this past weekend is going to apply to everyone throughout the rest of the summer," he said. "There's just not enough people running the airlines right now to get all of the planes that passengers want to be on, on and off the ground. So people are going to have to be on their toes. I would hope for the best and prepare for the worst."

If you plan to fly this summer, and want to know how to prepare, Here are some helpful things to consider provider by Thrifty Traveler.

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