Delta is the latest airline to announce cuts to flight schedule. What will it mean for travelers?

A ground crew loads bags onto a Delta Air Lines jet at Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Nov. 18, 2021. Delta is the latest U.S. carrier to trim its summer schedule ahead of the start of the busy travel season, announcing Thursday it will cut 100 fights from July 1 through Aug. 7.

A ground crew loads bags onto a Delta Air Lines jet at Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Nov. 18, 2021. Delta is the latest U.S. carrier to trim its summer schedule ahead of the start of the busy travel season, announcing Thursday it will cut 100 fights from July 1 through Aug. 7. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)



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SALT LAKE CITY — Delta Air Lines is the latest U.S. carrier to trim its summer schedule ahead of the start of the busy travel season, announcing Thursday it will cut 100 fights from July 1 through Aug. 7.

The news follows previous notices from other airlines, including JetBlue and Spirit Airlines, that are planning flight reductions this summer.

In a press release, Delta noted the reductions would primarily impact service to markets in the U.S. and Latin America. A spokeswoman for Salt Lake City International Airport said the facility has not yet seen details about which flights, if any, could be impacted by the decision at Delta's busy Utah hub.

Delta did not immediately respond to a Deseret News email seeking further details on which flights were slated for cancellation this summer.

Allison Ausband, Delta's chief customer experience officer, said the decision to cut flights was driven by multiple factors, including vendor issues and unexpected employee absences due to COVID-19.

"More than any time in our history, the various factors currently impacting our operation — weather and air traffic control, vendor staffing, increased COVID case rates contributing to higher-than-planned unscheduled absences in some work groups — are resulting in an operation that isn't consistently up to the standards Delta has set for the industry in recent years," Ausband said in a press statement. "We deeply appreciate the energy and efforts of our people and the confidence of our customers as we adapt and pivot to ensure we provide the airline-of-choice experience we're so proud to be known for."

Market forces are also contributing to skyrocketing ticket prices for airline travel, even ahead of these announced flight reductions going into effect.

Earlier this month, CNBC reported on airline ticket prices hitting all-time highs as a travel-starved public rushed back to the skies amid easing pandemic-related restrictions.

That surge in demand has led to a shortage in available seats for the people who want to fly. Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research Group, told CNBC that while travel demand has come roaring back, seat capacity is still down 6% compared to pre-pandemic numbers.

Additionally, consumers aren't the only ones facing high gas prices at the tank — the airlines are feeling it, too. According to IATA, the price of jet fuel has increased nearly 150% in the last year. Airlines are also facing the reality of not having enough pilots and flight attendants to run their flights, as well as higher labor costs. All of these forces have combined to create rising ticket prices. Harteveldt refers to this as "market forces at work."

Delta accounts for 70% of the traffic at Salt Lake International, which served over 22 million passengers last year, according to airport data. Before widespread restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic roiled the air travel industry, Delta's operations in Salt Lake City had been growing rapidly, up some 30% from 2014 to 2019. And, the carrier significantly expanded its passenger facilities as part of the ongoing, multi-billion dollar airport renovation project.

AAA is reporting that, despite record inflation and gas prices, it expects travel volumes this Memorial Day weekend to see a huge increase over last year and hit numbers close to pre-pandemic levels. AAA says a busy Memorial Day is typically a bellwether for a hectic summer travel season.

AAA estimates that over 39 million U.S. travelers will take to the roads, rails and skies over the long weekend, 3 million more than over the 2021 Memorial Day holiday, bringing holiday travel volumes within pre-pandemic levels.

"Memorial Day is always a strong predictor of what's to come for summer travel," Rolando Flores, Senior Vice President of Membership and Travel for AAA Utah, said in a statement. "Based on our projections, travel isn't just picking up speed, it's taking off."

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Art Raymond

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