Delta Air Lines is loosening restrictions on basic economy tickets to reduce the deluge of frustrated travelers facing hours-long waits on customer service phone lines.
Basic economy tickets normally do not allow any changes to the itinerary, even for a change fee. The airline temporarily allowed more flexibility during the pandemic, but that policy ended earlier this year.
Starting this week, however, Delta will temporarily allow changes to basic economy tickets for travel through Dec. 31, 2021, "to help address call wait times as we increase staffing," CEO Ed Bastian wrote in an update to customers.
The changes can be made online without paying a change fee.
Delta cut about 18,000 of its 90,000 employees last year through buyouts and early retirements to cut costs amid the pandemic, leaving it short-staffed when travelers rapidly returned to the skies.
"The unexpected pace of the return of our customers has resulted in some unforeseen challenges as we ramp up to meet demand and handle a record-breaking level of calls," Bastian told customers Tuesday.
He acknowledged that "the last thing you want is to experience long hold times when you call reservations or receive a notification that your flight schedule has changed."
To alleviate the problem, the Atlanta-based airline also is hiring more than 5,000 people, including 1,300 reservations specialists who will be trained by September and 3,000 in airport customer service and other areas. Delta has hired more than 2,200 people in Georgia so far this year.
Delta is also extending its elite frequent fliers' Medallion status through Jan. 31, 2023, and their upgrade certificates.