When Dan O’Brien says this summer has been “the busiest, most demanding” one he’s seen yet, it’s not an understatement. For 21 years, he’s kept a keen eye on the summer operation from his post in Delta’s Operations and Customer Center. Since 2000, he, along with four other Duty Directors, has tactically overseen Delta’s round-the-clock, global operation from the OCC.
And summer, he will tell you, more than any other time of the year, puts the airline to the test. It’s the busiest three months for just about any airline — certainly true for Delta — as more customers depart on more flights to more destinations around the globe.
“Summer is our proving ground,” O’Brien said of his worldwide colleagues. “It’s when we show our customers and the world what we’re really made of.”
This summer was one of Delta’s busiest on record. The airline’s busiest operational day — Aug. 5 with 5,939 Delta and Delta Connection flights — was more than twice as busy as its slowest: planned for Thanksgiving Day with 2,909. For the nearly three-month season, average daily departures totaled roughly 5,500 mainline and Delta Connection flights — up from around 5,350 last year — flying to 337 destinations around the globe.
Pull back the curtain on Delta’s summer operation and you see 80,000 employees who say they live for the types of challenges that come when temperatures rise in the northern hemisphere: near-daily summer storms at some of the airline’s biggest hubs, air traffic control snarls, an unfortunate technology outage and a host of other snafus that had disrupting effects on the operation. At 21, Delta this summer saw more irregular operations days — known in the industry as IROPs — compared to the last several years, primarily as a result of inclement weather which, interestingly enough, shifted from perennially impacted airports like Atlanta and Detroit up to Delta hubs in Minneapolis and New York City.
Summer, O’Brien says, is proof-positive that despite the potential challenges that June, July and August may bring to airline operations, reliably getting customers to where they’re going on time “is just what Delta does.” It’s a refrain heard from employees throughout the operation and the message they shared in a recent video posted on Delta’s social media channels. “Reliability is what we live by, every day. Being reliable is what we’re all about,” they said.
A record-breaking summer
Now on the backside of Labor Day, often regarded as the official close to summer, it’s evident just how significant the last three months have been. This summer, it turns out, has been rife with operational records and highlights.
For starters, Delta and Delta Connection carried more customers in a single day on July 22 than ever in its history with more than 624,000 people taking to the skies on roughly 5,900 Delta flights around the world. The airline carried more than 48 million customers through the net of summer. Meanwhile, during the summer period, Delta accumulated 59 days without a single mainline cancellation2 — for any reason — including a 5-day cancel-free operation across both the mainline and Delta’s regional operation at the end of August and a 12-day streak at the beginning of June.1 As if to signal their operational strength, Delta employees accomplished a perfect cancel-free Labor Day weekend across both mainline and Delta Connection during the full three-day period — a first for the airline.1 Despite a technology outage that caused the airline to cancel roughly 2,000 flights, Delta bounced back, netting a record 10 straight days in August where 91 percent of domestic mainline flights arrived within 14 minutes — the Department of Transportation’s definition of on-time.3 For the net of the summer season, 82 percent of Delta mainline flights arrived on-time.2 Combined with the six regional carriers operating as Delta Connection, the Delta brand maintained an 81.4 percent on-time rating for the period.1
The airline also helped the men’s Nigerian soccer team make it to their match in Brazil against Japan, with only hours to spare after their original charter flight left the team grounded in Atlanta. During this summer’s Copa America Centenario soccer tournament, Delta carried 16 teams to 10 cities in the U.S.
“What Delta people have done this month and throughout the summer has been nothing short of incredible,” Gil West, Delta’s Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, told employees Thursday. “The Delta team rallied to repair the brand nick we experienced with the IT outage by immediately rebounding to industry-leading performance and delivering the reliability our customers expect from us. It’s been an incredible and unprecedented comeback.”
 Based on Delta’s internal statistical reporting of Delta and Delta Connection-operated flights scheduled between June 1 and Sept. 5, 2016. Delta Connection carriers include: Compass Airlines, Endeavor Air, ExpressJet Airlines, GoJet Airlines, Shuttle America and SkyWest Airlines.
 Based on Delta’s internal statistical reporting of Delta-operated flights operated between June 1 and Sept. 5, 2016.
 Based on Delta’s internal statistical reporting of Delta-operated flights operated between Aug. 1 and Aug. 31, 2016.