No-shows by Delta attendants hold up or cancel 30 flights

Christmas Day fliers routed to other airlines

on-call staffers summoned

December 26, 2003|By COX NEWS SERVICE

ATLANTA - Delta Air Lines canceled or delayed more than 30 flights Christmas Day, many of them out of Atlanta, because flight attendants did not show up for work.

"They're screwing up hundreds of people's vacations," fumed Joel Babbit, an Atlanta public relations executive whose Christmas flight to Puerto Rico was canceled.

Babbit said an airline official told the stranded passengers that not enough flight attendants had arrived to satisfy federal regulations for the Atlanta-to-San Juan run.

Delta personnel at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport scrambled all day to find alternate flights - including seats on other airlines - to move the inconvenienced passengers.

"Right now the flights are moving and we feel that the flight attendant situation is manageable," Delta spokesman Joshua Smith said at midday.

Although it was hard to ignore the fact that the no-shows occurred on Christmas Day, Smith said he would not "speculate" about whether the missing flight attendants had chosen being with their families over the airline's passengers.

"They are professionals. It's hard to say what the exact reason is," Smith said

Smith pointed out that there's been "a terrible case of the flu this season. Hypothetically, we could have an abnormally high number of sickouts."

That would not explain why Delta was the only airline that had a significant number of cancellations yesterday, or why much of the problem was in Atlanta, where the flu season has been about average for the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At least 13 of the affected flights were scheduled out of Atlanta.

Replacements called in

The heightened terror alert was not a factor. "We have no cancellations due to security issues," Smith said.

Delta's incoming chief executive, Gerald Grinstein, was not available for comment, Smith said.

Delta was able to salvage some flights instead of cancelling them by contacting flight attendants who were on call for Christmas Day. Most of them reported to work within two hours, Smith said.

Only two of the six scheduled flight attendants showed up for a Delta flight from Atlanta to Jacksonville, Fla., yesterday afternoon, and the packed 767 was delayed 1 1/2 hours until replacements arrived, said passenger John McCosh, a public affairs representative. Ticket counter personnel at the boarding gate "apologized and attributed it to a planned sickout by flight attendants," McCosh said.

Delta flight attendants are not unionized.

Overnight stay

The canceled and delayed flights involved runs to several major cities, including Chicago; Charlotte, N.C.; Orlando, Fla.; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Mexico City; and San Juan.

Passengers on at least one canceled international flight had to stay overnight in Atlanta, but most passengers on other flights were rerouted within 45 minutes, Smith said.

Two flights were canceled for mechanical reasons, Smith said. Delta was working to press planes into duty that were not scheduled to be flown Christmas Day in order to accommodate passengers from those flights, he said.

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