WASHINGTON, D.C. - A group of high school students on their senior trip to Washington D.C. are among the Minnesotans sharing horror stories about their experiences on Delta Airlines
The 31 students and chaperones from Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart High School learned Wednesday night that their Thursday morning flight home to Minnesota had been canceled.
On Monday – five days later – 11 members of the group were still stuck in Washington.
“Just about all of us girls have cried once, if not twice,” said Amanda VanZee, a member of the senior class.
Delta found flights for five of the students on Saturday. Another group left Sunday. But the remaining 11 spent 18 hours at the airport Sunday enduring delays and the eventual cancellation of their flight from Washington to MSP International Airport.
Some of the students had never flown before, adding to the stress of an uncertain situation.
“We’re exhausted and stressed out," said Jackie Maiers. "We just want to see our families, have our own beds, take a shower and be able to go to work."
After the Sunday cancellations, BLHS superintendent David Hansen had seen enough. He followed the lead of some parents, ditching Delta and booking flights home for his students on Southwest Airlines.
“It was time to get them home,” Hansen said. The students were scheduled to arrive in the Twin Cities late Monday night.
Other Minnesotans took to social media to share stories of five-hour waits to speak to Delta customer service representatives, both at airports and on the phone.
The trouble started for Delta last Wednesday when its Atlanta hub was hit by strong thunderstorms, the first domino in a system-wide meltdown.
From Wednesday to Monday, more than 3,500 Delta flights were canceled.
Mark Albert, chief editor of The Voyage Report, says Delta’s inability to quickly right itself can be partly blamed on efficiencies airlines built into their procedures after the Great Recession.
“The airlines have just come off a record three years in a row of profitability,” said Albert. “What that means, though, is they’ve rung out all the inefficiencies in the system.”
When all flights are flying full, Albert says, little capacity remains to move passengers when flights are canceled.
Delta exacerbated the situation in 2015, when it broke off its agreement with American Airlines to help each other in times of crisis.
“Delta and American tore up their interline agreement, so Delta will not accommodate you on an American flight and American cannot accommodate you by putting you on a Delta flight,” Albert said. “That means you have even fewer options to be covered by an airline in these types of situations.”
Delta did not respond to a KARE 11 request for comment. On Monday the airline issued a statement saying 99 percent of its flights had returned to normal.
Too late for those students from Minnesota.
“Thirty-one families and all our friends back home, we’re never going to fly Delta again,” said Maiers.