August 12, 2022

During Delta Air Lines’ second quarter 2022 earnings call, CEO Ed Bastian turned some heads with a comment he made about a charter flight from London to Detroit that carried just bags. However, this might not have been quite as charitable as it first sounded.

Delta A330 flies from London to Detroit with 1,000 bags

While being asked by a reporter about Delta’s general issues with baggage handling, Bastian commented the following:

“We’ve gone as far as recently, we had a separate charter just to repatriate bags back to customers that have been stranded because of some of the operational issues the European airports were having. And we did that on our own nickel just to reunite or to help the customers sort their bags as quickly as possible.”

Indeed, on July 11, 2022, Delta flew an Airbus A330 from London (LHR) to Detroit (DTW) with no passengers and roughly 1,000 bags, all of which were in the cargo hold. The flight was operated by a 17-year-old Airbus A330-200 with the registration code N854NW, and with the special flight number DL9888.

Many European airports have had major issues with checked bags in recent weeks, largely due to a shortage of baggage handlers. There have been many pictures of baggage related chaos, including one particularly viral picture of bags piled up at Heathrow Terminal 2.

It’s of course fantastic that Delta made the effort to reunite passengers with their bags. However, there is a bit more to this story…

The real reason Delta operated this flight

Did Delta just fly an A330 empty from the United States to London so that it could fly it back to the United States with luggage? Nope, that’s not what happened.

On July 10, 2022, this plane operated flight DL10 from Minneapolis to London. Heathrow Airport has been having major operational issues, and the airport has been forcing airlines to cancel flights and reduce passenger numbers. This plane was supposed to operate flight DL17 from London to Detroit on July 11, but that flight ended up getting canceled due to the need to limit the number of passengers.

At this point Delta had a spare plane. The plane needed to be positioned to Detroit, given that it was supposed to operate flight DL18 from Detroit back to London later that day (and the cap doesn’t apply on passengers traveling to London).

Rather than just flying the plane back to Detroit totally empty, Delta decided to carry as many bags as possible that were delayed, in hopes of reuniting passengers with them.

Did Delta make the best of a bad situation? Absolutely, this was well thought out. But I’d say it’s a bit of a stretch to claim that the airline “had a separate charter just to repatriate bags,” and that this was done on Delta’s “own nickel just to reunite or to help the customers sort their bags as quickly as possible.”

This plane needed to reposition no matter what, and Delta was just making the most of that by loading some bags on the plane.

Bottom line

On Monday Delta operated a flight from London to Detroit carrying no passengers and 1,000 bags. This is a reflection of the times on a couple of levels. Yes, Delta did a good deed here, because so many bags had been delayed due to issues at European airports.

At the same time, the real reason this happened is because Delta had to cancel a flight due to passenger limits imposed by Heathrow that day. Rather than flying the plane back to Detroit empty (where it needed to be repositioned), the airline instead decided to carry some bags.

What do you make of Delta’s passenger-less flight?

See also  Our Lufthansa Delayed Bag Experience