The 2017 hurricane season was one of the most active on record with 17 named storms — 10 of them hurricanes — which bore down on Texas, Florida and islands in the Caribbean disrupting flights across the regions and prompting several airports to close due to infrastructure damage.
Despite the operational disruptions, Delta people rallied to take care of customers, employees and those affected by the storms. The airline issued travel waivers, capped fares, added extra flights and bigger aircraft with thousands of extra seats to aid customers who sought to evacuate, while carrying hundreds of thousands of pounds of relief supplies on board a mix of humanitarian and scheduled flights following the storms. Delta people also worked around-the-clock to safely resume scheduled air service amidst challenging conditions and infrastructure constraints.
Already in 2018, the airline has weathered storms across Hawaii, the U.S. Gulf Coast, Japan and the Korean Peninsula — a clear reminder of the National Hurricane Center's forecast that 2018 will see a near- or above-normal season.
With the backdrop of last year's storm season, Delta has set its sights—and coordination efforts—on this year. Employees throughout the airline's Operations and Customer Center (OCC), Revenue Management, Network Planning, Emergency Management and others have developed playbooks to outline Delta's response when hurricanes or other natural disasters impact cities and regions where Delta serves.
"As an airline, Delta is focused on connecting our customers and we're uniquely positioned to help those in the communities we serve when severe weather looms," said Eric Phillips, Delta's Senior Vice President — Pricing and Revenue Management. "That includes providing customers a cost-effective way to travel out of the storm's path and return home once it's safe to do so."
As a result of last year's storms, Delta's Revenue Management team has formalized a process to cap fares for tickets to and from the impacted areas to ensure those who are trying to evacuate have an economical opportunity to do so. Each storm will be handled on a case-by-case basis given the often unpredictable and frequently changing nature of weather events. Delta will continue to implement travel waivers that allow customers to make changes to their itineraries ahead of a storm without incurring a fee.
Moving metal to move people
While contingent on aircraft and crew availability, Delta's operational leaders have a robust plan to fly extra flights adding seat and cargo capacity to aid in evacuation efforts where needed — a plan that played out several times during last year's hurricane season and ahead of Hurricane Lane in late August with an extra flight from Honolulu to Los Angeles. Delta even flew several flights on Boeing 747s prior to their retirement on flights from Orlando during hurricane impacts in Florida last year. Station managers and Airport Customer Service field directors along with Revenue Management and the OCC work together to determine where a need exists within impacted areas and what amount of extra lift is needed. As was the case last year, Delta also operated several humanitarian flights, sometimes at the request of government officials, to move Federal Emergency Management Agency, Red Cross and other aid workers to help communities recover in the days and weeks following the storm.
"Delta has a long track record of supporting the communities we serve by leveraging the strength and connectivity of our operation and the dedication of our employees to help where we can," said Dave Holtz, Delta's Senior Vice President — OCC. "Our employees have time and time again come together in moments like these to care for our customers, the communities and each other when natural disasters occur."
Delta Cargo supports humanitarian efforts
Delta's true spirit shone during last year's hurricane season with employees donating 200,000 pounds of supplies, which the airline shipped at no charge. This was in addition to the 600,000 pounds of relief supplies including bottled water and water-filtration systems, baby formula, baby supplies, canned food, personal care items, batteries, fuel, fans, generators and more that Delta carried following the summer and fall hurricanes.
Taking lessons learned from last year, Delta Cargo created a task force and formalized its Employee Relief Shipment Program, which it developed in the midst of Hurricane Maria's aftermath. Under the plan, Delta Cargo developed a web portal to be published on DeltaCargo.com during hurricanes that significantly impact Delta stations. The benefit program allows employees to send up to 300 pounds of humanitarian relief supplies to family, Delta colleagues or relief organizations working in the affected areas. Delta will waive base shipping fees and screening charges. Taxes, surcharges and other fees will still apply. Through Delta Cargo, customers or community members interested in shipping supplies will use a similar form to be connected with a freight forwarder or other known shipper.
"Our employees showed us last year their overwhelming generosity and willingness to help their colleagues, families and friends affected by hurricanes, and they're the reason we worked to formalize and simplify the process of shipping humanitarian aid following a significant event," said Shawn Cole, Delta's Vice President — Delta Cargo.
Peach Corps to assist
Over the last two years, Delta continues to enhance its Peach Corps, a network of hundreds of employee-volunteers with varying levels of customer service experience who are called upon to support when the operation is in need. Whether that's during a significant weather event or the terminal move in LAX, for example, the Peach Corps is a key component of the airline's broader significant irregular operation plan and can be activated quickly to assist with customer meet and greet, way-finding, line control, customer comfort and other service recovery functions.
Delta remains committed to its support of larger relief efforts with the airline and The Delta Air Lines Foundation contributing more than $1.75 million to the American Red Cross and Red Cross affiliates in the wake of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. This was in addition to the company's yearly $1 million donation to the Annual Disaster Giving Program to prepare for disaster recovery before an event occurs.