ATLANTA – Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said he found it “shocking” that it took nearly 12 hours to get the power back on at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport — and he plans to seek compensation for the airline’s lost revenue.
The stern comments from the head of Atlanta’s largest airline signal that the crisis this week sparked discord between some of the Southeast’s most powerful entities: Delta, Georgia Power, Hartsfield-Jackson Airport and the City of Atlanta.
“It was a very difficult experience. And it was shocking, candidly, that it took so long to get the power back on,” he said. “I know they worked hard to deliver, but to be out of power for almost 12 hours is unbelievable.”
In an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution at a Delta 747 farewell event Tuesday evening, Bastian said: “We will certainly be seeking the opportunity to have a conversation, and then seek reimbursement. … I don’t know whose responsibility it is between the airport and Georgia Power, but we’re going to have conversations with both of them.”
Bastian said the airline may have lost $25 million to $50 million of revenue as a result of the power failure that hit the world’s busiest airport on Sunday. That doesn’t include other costs incurred by Delta, which canceled 1,400 flights and is reimbursing passengers for Sunday night hotel stays.
Amid criticism of the limited information that trickled out from the city and the airport as the power failure stretched for hours on Sunday, Delta’s chief also emphasized the importance of communication.
The airline has suffered through its own debacles leading to thousands of flight cancellations, including after a thunderstorm earlier this year and after a computer system failure last year.
“Having been there myself in a crisis, the most important thing is to stay visible, to let people know what you know, even if you don’t have all the answers — and to make certain you take responsibility,” Bastian said. “We’ll work aggressively on whatever fixes need to be installed to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Bastian said he was concerned about the failure’s effect on the airline’s passengers, employees and reputation. He said the airline wasn’t able to tell its customers how long it might take to get the power back on “other than what Georgia Power was telling us — because we didn’t have responsibility for it.”
Delta, the dominant airline at Hartsfield-Jackson and at Minneapolis-St. Paul International, is also pushing for more information about the cause of the incident, including what backups failed. Bastian said when he talked to Georgia Power the day after the power failure, “they still didn’t have all the answers.”
“I think we need to have a full postmortem as to what happened,” Bastian said. “We haven’t had the chance yet to sit down and fully understand what everyone could have done better.”
Bastian said he plans to meet with Atlanta Mayor-elect Keisha Lance Bottoms on the matter soon after she takes office next month. “Certainly we’ll be looking to meet with our new mayor early in January to be able to take her through that discussion,” he said.
Georgia Power CEO Paul Bowers told Delta there will be a backup in place for the power system at the Atlanta airport by Friday, he added.
“I told Paul that we need to make certain that we learn from this, that we never experience this either here in Atlanta or any of the other big airports,” Bastian said.