Delta Air Lines flew a flight packed with 1,000 pieces of stranded luggage — and no passengers — from London’s Heathrow Airport to the U.S. this week as this summer’s saga of airline struggles continues.
An Airbus A330-200 was flown to Detroit to return suitcases to their owners Monday after a flight to the Michigan city was canceled the same day. The flight was axed "given airport passenger volume restrictions at Heathrow" and passengers were rebooked, according to the airline.
The decision was a "creative solution" designed "to accelerate movement of delayed bags," Delta spokesperson Morgan Durrant said.
Strained by staff shortages amid heavy summer travel, Heathrow announced a cap on the number of travelers and asked airlines to stop selling new tickets through mid-September.
“We have therefore made the difficult decision to introduce a capacity cap with effect from 12 July to 11 September,” to “ensure passengers have a safe and reliable journey,” Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said in an open letter Tuesday.
He said over the past few weeks, “we have started to see periods when service drops to a level that is not acceptable: long queue times, delays for passengers requiring assistance, bags not traveling with passengers or arriving late, low punctuality and last-minute cancellations.”
The chaos is due, in part, to passenger numbers exceeding the capacity of airlines, ground handlers and the airport.
Heathrow has a daily capacity of 100,000 passengers, but the latest forecasts indicate the number of daily departing passengers over the summer will average 104,000, the letter stated.
“We recognise that this will mean some summer journeys will either be moved to another day, another airport or be cancelled and we apologise to those whose travel plans are affected,” Holland-Kaye said.
Travelers have returned to the skies with gusto this summer. The July Fourth holiday weekend in the U.S. saw record pre-pandemic numbers in airports — but it wasn’t all without a hitch, as thousands of flights were delayed or canceled.
In a quarterly earnings call Wednesday, Delta admitted that the operational environment, including high fuel prices and capacity issues, remains challenging.
Delta CEO Ed Bastian said since the start of 2021, 18,000 new employees have been hired.
“The chief issue we’re working through is not hiring, but a training and experience bubble,” he said. “Coupling this with the lingering effects of Covid, and we’ve seen a reduction in crew availability and high overtime.”
CORRECTION (July 14, 2022, 2:54 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated when a consultant said U.S. airlines are trying to hire at least 12,000 pilots combined this year. It was in May, not June.