Boots & Sabers

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2002, 17 Jul 22

Delta CEO Explains Experience Gap


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.




In June 2020, a little over two years ago, 2,000 Delta pilots opted to take early retirement as the airline sought to reduce headcount in the earliest days of the pandemic when the number of global flights plummeted roughly 80%. In April 2020, Delta had received $5.4 billion, including a $1.6 billion loan, from a taxpayer-funded airline bailout.


As spending and travel resumed, at first slowly in 2021 and then dramatically in 2022, Delta has still dealt with the fallout of a pandemic-era labor shortage, so even as companies staff back up to 2019 levels, it’s just not so easy for its new staff to perform at that level.


Much of the training backlog is intentional, according to Bastian, because overall airline industry capacity still hasn’t returned to 2019 levels—his estimate is it’s currently between 90% to 95%—and he foresees continued pent-up demand for air travel as consumers become comfortable flying.

What I read is that Delta took bailout money to let go older, more expensive staff, and is replacing them with younger, les experienced staff. The taxpayers funded a labor force turnover to reduce costs.


2002, 17 July 2022


  1. Jason

    Just remember this… which silver tongued CEO hopes you don’t… through this “experience gap” where they’re “struggling” to transition from experienced staff to new staff… they had no issues what-so-ever selling everyone a ticket. They didn’t limit sales, they didn’t plan ahead, they didn’t say “We might not be able to complete your flight you paid for with our staff issues”. No, they sold the fucking tickets and then decided to deal with the fallout while their customers got fucked at airports.

    Fuck them.

  2. Merlin

    This pilot shortage has been decades in the making. Back in the 80s almost 70% of airline pilots were former military pilots. By 2020 that percentage was down to about 30%. The Air Force and Navy have been having ongoing pilot recruitment and retention issues of their own and are demanding 10 year commitments (used to be six). The airline industry’s taxpayer funded military farm system has dried up considerably.

    Unless you’re a trust fund baby, privately building the necessary flight qualifications all the way to an ATP certificate has become nearly impossible. You have to really want to be a flying bus driver. There are plenty of private flight schools where you can get your initial ratings, but eventually you have to find work as a commercial pilot and be pretty adept managing a career track. Even if you’re fortunate enough to acquire mad piloting skills and a bottom-rung ATP position with an airline you still have to deal with the union seniority system for advancement.

    United Airlines finally opened their own academy somewhere around Phoenix to grow their own pilots. It’s a great idea, but one that should have happened 15-20 years ago. Other major airlines will have to do much the same just to keep United from poaching their pilots with currently less than optimal career paths. It won’t take much longer before the smaller airlines can’t field enough flight crews to even keep themselves in business.

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