So far, travel this summer has been characterized by long lines at airports, a spate of flight delays and cancellations, and unprecedented amounts of lost luggage. All of which make for one of the most chaotic travel seasons in recent memory.
This Wednesday, Delta became the first airline to release quarterly earnings, shedding a light on the situation. It revealed some issues bubbling under the surface.
The company is experiencing a “training and experience bubble,” CEO Ed Bastian said in the company’s quarterly earnings call on Wednesday.
Nowhere is this clearer than the gap between staffing and air travel capacity: Bastian reported that Delta had recovered to 95% of the staffing level from 2019 pre-pandemic levels, but the airline was only operating at 82% of air travel capacity. In other words, a nearly fully staffed Delta is operating close to 20% below its peak level. To understand why, you have to go back to the brief pandemic recession of 2020, when Delta was one of several airlines to lay off staff—and accept government bailout money.